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German Aid Group Denies Taleban Accusations

The German aid group Shelter Now is again rejecting accusations by Afghanistan's ruling Taleban faction that eight of its employees were in the country on a mission to spread Christianity even if its workers were carrying Bibles in the local language. The group is growing increasingly concerned about the fate of the eight who have been detained since early this month.

Shelter Now has been working in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years - long before the Taleban took power. The aid group instructs its workers on how to operate in conflict zones as well as in countries where religious beliefs like Christianity are not condoned.

"They know about the sensitivity of these things," says Shelter Now director Udo Stolte. Mr. Stolte, of Braunschweig, Germany does not rule out the possibility that his employees were carrying Bibles in the local language, as the Taleban say they were. Christianity and all of its symbols are banned in Afghanistan under Taleban rule.

"I have been there recently but I didn't see anything [like] this in somebody's hands," he said. "But if there would be some Bibles in local languages, well our people are Christians and they learn the local languages. We put a very big emphasis on them learning the local languages, so if you learn a language you have material in this language."

Four Germans along with two Americans and two Australians have not been seen since being rounded up early this month along with a number of Afghans on suspicion of what the Taleban says was a conspiracy by western aid groups to convert Afghans to Christianity.

As an investigation into their activities continues, diplomats from all three countries are in Kabul hoping to meet with them. But they've been told by Taleban authorities they might as well go home, a view that State Department Spokesman Philip Reeker finds unacceptable. "Our point is very clear. They need to allow access to our American citizens and they need to allow that now," he said.

The Taleban has not spelled out what punishment those detained could face. But Shelter Now is warning any effort to pressure the country's Islamic rulers will only make the situation worse.