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Afghan leader outlines plans to restore order

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KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) — Afghanistan's interim leader outlined his plans Wednesday for restoring order to his war-weary country just hours after the new government ordered armed men off streets and soldiers back to barracks in battered Kabul.

Confusion surrounded the fate of three ministers from the vanquished Taliban militia — possibly rich sources of clues to the whereabouts of their leaders — who were reported to have surrendered but then freed under surveillance.

A U.S. KC-130 refueling aircraft crashed Wednesday in mountains near Shamsi airport in Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province, and witnesses said they saw flames and numerous Pakistani and U.S. troops rushing to the scene.

The aircraft crashed at around 8:00 p.m. in mountains to the north of Shamsi and flames could be seen from the site, a resident said. Reports said seven Marines were aboard.

More al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners filled U.S. detention camps in Afghanistan while U.S. jets prowled the skies to bomb possible hideouts of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born militant accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

In an address on television — a medium banned by his Taliban predecessors — Karzai laid out a brief blueprint for restoring economic and political stability.

"Let us join together and make a national army," he said, speaking in Dari, the Afghan Persian used in the north.

Karzai said he would control inflation, encourage manufacturing, try to create jobs and foster a market economy.

His government would stop the printing of unsupported afghani bank notes. Several different groups have printed Afghan currency in recent years, leading to a proliferation of bills not backed by the government.

The interim administration would not restrict the media if they did not damage national interests, he said.

The government also ordered all armed men except police and official security personnel to leave Kabul and return to their military bases, Interior Minister Yunis Qanuni said.

The government appointed at a U.N.-backed meeting in Bonn last month began Tuesday to enforce a plan to disarm a city awash with firearms after 23 years of war.

"The government decided yesterday to implement the security agreement as it was agreed in Bonn," Qanuni told Reuters. "All people armed with weapons or ammunition are not allowed to walk in the streets.

"We have ordered all the armed people except security people and the police to leave the city and go to their old bases."

Thousands of loosely organized but heavily armed Northern Alliance troops have occupied Kabul since the fundamentalist Taliban militia fled the city on Nov. 13.

Afghan men have for centuries regarded carrying a gun as virtually a birthright but the Taliban banned weapons on the streets except for security personnel.

SEARCHING FOR FUGITIVES

Heavily armed U.S. special forces conducted ground searches for Mullah Omar and bin Laden, and took two more prisoners this week in the eastern Khost area that has been heavily bombed in the last few days.

In Khost, some 200 U.S. Marines arrived after tribal elders decided at a jirga, or council, that they could not hand over a fugitive teen-ager suspected of killing a U.S. soldier, witnesses said.

The jirga, attended by five U.S. personnel, met to decide the fate of a 14-year-old boy who has disappeared amid suspicions he killed the first U.S. soldier to die in hostile fire in the war.

"The elders of four tribes attending the meeting told the U.S. personnel that they could neither capture the boy nor hand him over to them," a witness said.

Hours later, some 200 U.S. troops arrived in the area for a possible search operation to recover the missing boy, he said.

The slain special forces soldier, identified as Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman, 31, of San Antonio, Texas, last week became the first U.S. military casualty from hostile fire in the country, apparently killed in an ambush.

U.S. officials may not be satisfied with plans to grant amnesty to Taliban members who surrender but who could provide vital intelligence — such as the three Taliban ministers whose fate was shrouded in confusion.

A spokesman for the Kandahar governor said Tuesday the former ministers of defense, justice and mines and industry had surrendered to authorities there and had then been released. But they would not be able to move freely "for their own security."

Only Mullah Omar would not be eligible for an amnesty, said the spokesman, Khalid Pashtoon.

AMNESTY WELCOME?

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said the reclusive cleric who founded the Taliban and bin Laden, whom Washington accuses of masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks, were likely to be still in Afghanistan, but the trail was cold.

Following reports Tuesday that three former cabinet ministers had surrendered, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Washington wanted Kabul to hand them over for questioning.

Pashtoon said Taliban who surrendered would be protected and granted amnesties unless charges were filed against them.