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US raids miss Osama

Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, March 9 (Reuters): A former Taliban diplomat today said that Osama bin Laden was in the southern Afghan province of Nimroz just days before US forces launched a new operation to arrest him.

Naseer Ahmed Roohi, a former diplomat in Afghanistanís fallen hardline government, said he had information from ďreliable sourcesĒ that bin Laden had been in the Siakoh mountain range, straddling the south-western Afghan provinces of Nimroz, Helmand and Pakistanís Baluchistan province.

ďBin Laden, along with a few companions, shifted to an unknown area, just days before the US-led operation in the area,Ē Roohi said, speaking from an undisclosed location.

Roohiís statements came as the home minister of a Pakistani province accused some of the media of misquoting his remarks about unsubstantiated reports of the arrests of two of bin Ladenís sons in Afghanistan.

On Friday, the home minister of Baluchistan, Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, said he had heard two of bin Ladenís sons had been wounded and possibly arrested in an operation on Thursday by US and Afghan troops in the Ribat region of Nimroz, where Afghanistan abuts Pakistan and Iran.

But in a statement today Zehri said he had been misquoted in some media reports and that he had said the reports about the arrest of bin Ladenís sons were unsubstantiated. Zehri had said at the time he could not be certain about the accuracy of the arrest report. The White House and the Pakistani government said they could not substantiate the arrest report.

US forces in Afghanistan said yesterday that they detained seven men in the central part of Helmand province a day earlier. The US military did not identify those captured, who are suspected of planning attacks on coalition forces.

Roohi, who says he was a first secretary in the Talibanís mission in the United Arab Emirates before the hardline regime was ousted in late 2001, said he had unconfirmed reports that ďa close relativeĒ of bin Ladenís was among those detained in Helmand on Friday, but could not vouch for their accuracy.

US military spokesman Colonel Roger King said yesterday that no units of the US-led coalition force in Afghanistan had been operating in Ribat for the previous 72 hours.

The Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are also hunting for bin Laden and other al Qaida figures, but are not part of the coalition.

Pakistani officials have denied any new operations have been launched on Pakistani territory in pursuit of bin Laden since the March 1 arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

But officers from Pakistanís Frontier Corps said last week that Pakistani and some US forces had launched an operation in pursuit of al Qaida suspects on Thursday in the Ribat region.

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