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Taleban Grants Visas To Western Diplomats - 2001-08-13


Afghanistan's ruling Taleban movement has granted visas to diplomats seeking to visit eight foreign aid workers, who are being held along with 16 Afghans on charges of promoting Christianity.

Taleban ambassador in Islamabad, Abdul Salam Zaeef, told reporters that diplomats from Germany, Australia and the United States will only be able to meet with Taleban authorities in the Afghan capital. He says the diplomats will have to wait for consular access to their detained nationals until investigations into the charges against them are completed.

Guenter Oberfeld is a senior official at the German embassy in neighboring Pakistan. He told reporters the German, U.S. and Australian diplomats are due to travel to Afghanistan Tuesday. "The consular offices of the German embassy, Australia and the United States, they will travel to Kabul tomorrow and will have talks with the Taleban in order to seek access to the detainees," Mr. Oberfeld said. "We all would like to seek access to the detainees and a fast solution of the case."

Those arrested are now in their second week of detention. They include four Germans, two Australians and two Americans from German-based Christian relief agency, Shelter Now. Six of them are women. They were rounded up along with 16 local colleagues for allegedly spreading Christianity among Afghan Muslims.

The Taleban says the fate of the aid workers will be determined according to its strict interpretation of Islamic law, which prescribes the death penalty for any Afghan Muslim converting to any other religion.

On Monday, the Taleban ruled out pardons for the relief workers. Last week Taleban official media reported that the detained German director of Shelter Now, Georg Taubmann, had appealed for a pardon for his people.

Taleban religious minister Mohammad Wali is quoted as telling reporters in Kabul that the appeal for acquittal was only possible if the aid workers were not aware of the Taleban rules, or if they had committed the crime by mistake. Mr. Wali says after the investigation is over, an Islamic court in the country will decide as to what sort of punishment will be given to the detainees.

Meanwhile, the 15-nation Afghan Support Group has said it is concerned by the detention of the aid workers in Afghanistan. In a statement, the group has urged the Taleban to grant consular access to the detained aid workers. The organization includes donors from European Union countries, Russia, Japan, the United States and Switzerland. In a statement, it says that the safety of aid workers and the need for clear information about the situation of nationals from donor countries is a vital prerequisite for humanitarian work in Afghanistan.

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