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Diplomats Seek Access to Foreign Aid Workers in Afghanistan - 2001-08-17

Western diplomats in Afghanistan are pledging to press on with efforts to gain access to eight foreign aid workers who are being held by Taleban rulers on charges of promoting Christianity. The detainees include four Germans, two Australians and two Americans.

Despite the Islamic Taleban's refusal to allow consular access to the detained aid workers, diplomats from Germany, the United States and Australia say they will continue their efforts. However, the diplomats have indicated Taleban authorities appear to be in no mood to allow any visit to the detainees.

On Thursday, the Taleban told the diplomats to return to neighboring Pakistan and wait until an investigation into the charges against the aid workers is complete. The diplomats were able to give Taleban authorities a number of personal items for the detainees, including mail.

About two weeks ago, the Taleban arrested two American women, four Germans and two Australians along with 16 local staff of the German-based Shelter Now aid group. Taleban officials allege the aid workers were involved in spreading Christianity among Afghan Muslims, a charge denied by the group.

The German, American, and Australian diplomats arrived in Kabul earlier this week to try to visit the detainees, but Taleban authorities have repeatedly denied them permission to do so.

The diplomats can stay in the country until next Tuesday, when their visas expire. The Taleban has said it will not extend the visas.

The German representative Helmut Landes told reporters in Kabul Friday that he and his fellow diplomats are hoping for an appointment with a Taleban official on Saturday.

His American colleague David Danahue is quoted as saying they want to be in Kabul so they will be within minutes of the detainees when the Taleban finally allows access to the aid workers. But the diplomats say if their visas are not extended, it probably means authorities are no longer interested in maintaining the dialogue.

The Taleban has not explained what punishment the detained foreigners might face. It says their fate would be determined according to Islamic laws. Under the Taleban's strict interpretation of Islamic law, any Afghan Muslim converting to any other religion could be sentenced to death.