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Diplomats Encouraged by Access to Detainees in Afghanistan - 2001-08-28

Diplomats in Kabul, Afghanistan say they are encouraged that they have been given access to eight detained foreign aid workers. The eight were taken into custody more than three weeks ago by Taleban authorities for allegedly preaching Christianity. Two family members of the detainees are also in the Afghan capital.

Three senior consular officials from Germany, Australia and the United States held a series of high-level meetings at the foreign ministry in Kabul to discuss the aid workers' situation.

Taleban authorities say they have evidence the eight, as well as 16 Afghan employees of the aid group Shelter Now, were trying to convert Afghans to Christianity. Shelter Now officials deny the charges.

Taleban authorities say their investigation into the matter may end soon and the case will be handed to a judge for further action.

David Donahue is the U.S. consul general in Islamabad. Mr. Donahue, who has traveled to Kabul, says he hopes for a quick resolution of the case. "We always hope there will be a quick resolution," he said, "and we are working with the Taleban authorities to find how this might be resolved."

Mr. Donahue said now that consular access has been granted to the detainees, he and his colleagues are discussing with Taleban officials what happens next, how the investigation will proceed, and how to resolve the issue quickly.

Taleban authorities have said the eight could be tried in an Islamic court. Under the Taleban's strict interpretation of Islamic law, they face possible jail sentences and expulsion if convicted. The Afghan detainees could be sentenced to death if they are found guilty.

Mr. Donahue says the parents of two U.S. women being detained have held emotional visits with their daughters. The U.S. diplomat also says the detainees are being well treated. "We are very pleased to find they were healthy, very well," he said. "They were of course very happy to see their parents. And they were very complimentary of the conditions they were living in, in the detention center."

The diplomats say they plan to stay in Kabul for the time being and that Taleban authorities are cooperating fully with their requests.

Earlier this month, the three diplomats spent a week in Kabul in an unsuccessful attempt to see the detainees. Last week, the parents of the two U.S. women detained sent a letter to the Taleban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, apologizing on behalf of their daughters for any offense they may have caused the Afghan people.