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Taliban offer to surrender Konduz to U.N., Afghan elders say

KONDUZ, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Taliban leaders in Konduz offered to surrender their last stronghold in northern Afghanistan to the United Nations amid reports that some fighters have committed suicide rather than give up.

The Taliban commander of Afghanistan's northern zone, Mullah Dadullah, and the Konduz governor, Haji Omar Khan, are willing to surrender to the United Nations, a group of Afghan tribal elders announced in Peshawar, Pakistan.

A statement from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's office said he was "very concerned about the situation" and has been in touch with his special representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, who has contacted the International Committee for the Red Cross, which normally handles surrender situations, a U.N. spokesperson said.

The opposition Northern Alliance promised Taliban troops -- which include an undetermined number of Chechen, Pakistani and Arab volunteers -- safe passage from Konduz if they gave up their weapons.

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But a Northern Alliance commander told CNN that 25 trapped Taliban fighters fatally shot one another when they saw opposition troops advancing toward them. One source inside Konduz told CNN that about 60 Chechens fighting alongside the Taliban drowned themselves in the Amu River rather than give up.

Northern Alliance Gen. Atiqullah Baryalai, who is leading the fight in Konduz, said only 100 Taliban fighters have defected after days of negotiations.

Dadullah and Khan said they are willing to give up their heavy weapons and all non-Afghan fighters to the United Nations and called for the international body to appoint a neutral caretaker and governor for Konduz, the Afghan elders said.

The two men also said they support the proposed loya jirga -- the traditional council in which Afghans choose a government -- and the former Afghan King Mohammad Zahir Shah, who has pledged to help construct a post-Taliban Afghan government.

Dadullah and Khan insisted that they would not surrender to the Northern Alliance because they said the alliance has no respect for human rights, property and honor. They said the Taliban would continue to fight if the alliance enters the city.

Aided by U.S. air raids, Northern Alliance troops captured most of the area around Konduz during a rapid offensive last week. U.S. airstrikes hit Taliban positions in the region again Sunday, with raids about nine miles (15 kilometers) outside Konduz.

Northern Alliance officials said they have deployed about 30,000 troops to the front, but they are not prepared to move forward into the city because they are low on ammunition and are awaiting the outcome of the U.S. strikes.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell pledged Sunday morning in Washington that the strikes would continue near Konduz and other areas of Afghanistan.

"This war is not over," Powell told Fox News on Sunday. "It'll continue for a while until the Taliban power is totally cracked and other tribes in the south start to reassert control."

CNN Correspondent Satinder Bindra contributed to this report


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