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Taleban Refuses Visas for Diplomats to Visit Aid Workers - 2001-08-12


Afghanistan's ruling Taleban movement says it will not give visas to foreign diplomats to visit aid workers, who have been detained for allegedly spreading Christianity.

Taleban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil says diplomats from Australia, Germany, and the United States will not be granted visas to see the detained aid workers. The diplomats have been waiting for nearly a week in neighboring Pakistan for visas to travel to Kabul.

Mr. Mutawakil told reporters in the Afghan capital that no one would be allowed to visit the detainees while the case is under investigation. But he says if the foreign diplomats want to come and discuss the issue with Taleban authorities then they may be issued visas immediately.

A German diplomat is reported as saying the Taleban position is unacceptable. He says that without permission to see the detainees, the diplomats will not go to Kabul. The Taleban has said it wants to show the diplomats what it says is undeniable evidence that their nationals were involved in preaching Christianity.

The Taleban says the fate of the foreign aid workers would be decided according to the country's Islamic law, which prescribes the death penalty for any Afghan Muslim converting to Christianity.

Mr. Mutawakil says that punishment for the foreigners will be decided after the investigation is completed. Foreigners breaking Taleban rules could be sentenced and jailed for up to 10 days, then deported within 48 hours.

Those arrested include four Germans, two Americans, and two Australians of a German-based aid agency, Shelter Now. They were rounded up along with 16 local colleagues in Kabul about a week ago for allegedly preaching Christianity among Afghan Muslims. The Taleban has closed offices of the group and a school it was running in the capital, Kabul.

Saturday, the Islamic group released 65 children, who had been detained for allegedly receiving Christian teaching from the aid workers. But the children's adult male relatives have been taken into custody. Taleban officials say they may be punished for allowing their children to be exposed to Christianity.

The Taleban controls most of war-torn Afghanistan, but it has failed to win international recognition for its rule. The group has been internationally condemned for maintaining a poor human rights record. It has banned most girls from receiving an education and women from working.