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PESHAWAR, Nov 24: Hundreds of the Taliban fighters gave themselves up to the Northern Alliance forces on Saturday to end the siege of Kunduz as part of an agreement to surrender their last stronghold in northern Afghanistan by the weekend.

“The process is on,” a spokesman for the governor of Kunduz told Dawn. He said the Taliban fighters were expected to turn themselves over to the Northern Alliance by the weekend.

“I see no problem as far as the foreign fighters are concerned. They will also surrender to the Northern Alliance. Some of them have already given themselves up,” the spokesman said by phone from Kunduz.

Reports reaching here said that more than 1,000 Taliban fighters had surrendered to the Northern Alliance.

Uzbek warlord and alliance commander Gen Rashid Dostum told reporters in Mazar-i-Sharif that more than 500 Taliban, including some “foreign mercenaries” had surrendered to his forces.

“The Taliban would be allowed to go home while the foreign fighters would be handed over to the UN,” he said.

Dostum’s spokesman Shamsul Haq Nasiri told the BBC Pushto broadcast that over 500 Taliban fighters had been shifted to a jail in Mazar-i-Sharif. “There is no need to fight. We will respect the agreement reached between Dostum and Mulla Dadullah.”

Gen Dostum said that a surrendering Taliban soldier detonated a hand-grenade killing himself and two other fighters and wounding an alliance commander. The incident occurred when the alliance forces were searching the surrendering Taliban.

One report said the surrendering Taliban looked weary and despondent, and tried to hide their faces from cameras.

Gen Dostum and the Taliban deputy defence minister had reached an agreement last week paving the way for the end of siege of Kunduz that provides a northern route to Tajikistan.

The United Nations has no representative in Afghanistan and it is expected that the foreign fighters would continue to remain in jail for some time.

Dostum’s spokesman said the Taliban came riding in 20 pick-ups and brought with them heavy weapons and laid them down before the Northern Alliance forces. He hoped that the surrender would complete in the next 24 hours.

Reports said over 600 Taliban drove out of Kunduz eastwards via Bangi Pull and surrendered to the Northern Alliance forces led by Gen Dostum who oversaw the operation.

Another convoy of 400 Taliban fighters came out to the west of Kunduz and surrendered to the Northern Alliance forces. One report said that top Taliban commander Mulla Hamidullah was among those who surrendered.

Nasiri said that he had 2,000 forces at his command to take security of Kunduz.

There are over 24,000 Taliban fighters in Kunduz. The number of foreign fighters holding out in the city is not known but the Northern Alliance says they are in thousands and include Arabs, Chechens and Pakistanis.

MAIDAN-I-SHEHR: Over 200 fighters in Maidan-i- Shehr, a village near Kabul, surrendered to the Northern Alliance as part of an agreement to end days of fighting.

A Taliban commander in Maidan-i-Shehr, Haji Ghulam Muhammad Maidani, confirmed the agreement.

KANDAHAR: Pakhtoon tribal leader Hamid Karzai claimed on Saturday that his forces had scored a key victory near Kandahar, agencies add.

Taliban forces remain in control of Kandahar and a large patch of territory around it, despite advances by local Pakhtoon leaders and attacks on pockets of resistance by US and British commandos.

Karzai, a former deputy foreign minister and close ally of former king Zahir Shah, said local tribal militia had attacked the Taliban on Friday around Takhtapul, some 45km southeast of Kandahar.

“People rose up against the Taliban and liberated the area. The Taliban tried to counter attack and retake the area but they couldn’t,” Karzai said via satellite phone from southern Afghanistan.

“A district between Spin Boldak and Kandahar has been liberated and presumably the road from Kandahar to Pakistan has been cut off.”

A Taliban spokesman denied the report, branding it “baseless,” according to the Afghan Islamic Press.

QATAR WORRIED: Qatar, which has supported the US-led war, voiced fears on Saturday for its nationals who are thought to be trapped in the pocket after volunteering to fight for Al Qaeda.

“Qatar has expressed deep concern for the fate of Arabs and other foreigners in Afghanistan, particularly in Kunduz, who risk being massacred for ethnic reasons, in violation of international law and human rights,” a foreign ministry spokesman told the QNA state news agency.