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US Officials Attempt to Visit Captives in Afghanistan - 2001-08-09

U.S. officials are tyring to visit two Americans who could be facing the death penalty in Afghanistan. The ruling Taleban says the Americans are among 24 people arrested Sunday for trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says Taleban officials have assured them that all of the detainees are being treated well. "The Taleban Charge in Islamabad has told our Charge that the detained employees of Shelter Now are in good condition and are being treated well," he said. "Our request that a consular officer be permitted to go to Kabul and visit the detainees has been forwarded to Taleban authorities but they have not yet responded."

A Taleban-run news agency says U.S., German, and Austrialan embassy officials will arrive in Kabul Thursday to discuss the case. Mr. Boucher says the State Department has not received an answer to its request for a visa.

U.S. officials want to meet with the two Americans who were arrested along with four Germans, two Australians, and 16 Afghans working for the German-based relief group Shelter Germany. They could face the death penalty in Afghanistan for trying to convert people to Christianity.

A spokesman for the group says the workers did have Bibles and other Christian literature displayed by the Taleban as evidence of their proselytizing, but the group says those materials were only for personal use. Materials confiscated from the Shelter Now compound include films on Christianity in the local Dari language, copies of the Bible translated into Dari and information on Dari-language Christian radio broadcasts.

Mr. Boucher says U.S. officials are working with German and Austrialian colleagues to try and resolve the case quickly. Taleban officials say it is up to their supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar to decide the fate of those detained.

Taleban authorities also arrested 64 boys who were being taught at the Shelter Now compound. Officials say they are being "re-educated" before their release.