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Taleban Refuses Diplomats Access To Detainees - 2001-08-16

Afghanistan's Taleban rulers have advised Western diplomats to leave the country after again refusing to let them see eight foreign aid workers detained on charges of promoting Christianity.

Pakistan-based diplomats from Germany, Australia and the United States have been waiting in Kabul since Tuesday to try to secure access to the detained aid workers.

The diplomats say they had a two-hour meeting with Taleban authorities on Thursday, where it was repeated there could be no access to the detainees.

Australian diplomat Alastar Adams told reporters in the Afghan capital that the Taleban has asked them to be patient and to wait until the investigation is finished. As he puts, the Taleban officials have told the diplomats that any sign of persistence and pursuing or trying to hurry the investigation may be counter-productive.

Mr. Adams says the Taleban has also suggested that it would be better for the diplomats to return to neighboring Pakistan and to monitor progress from there.

The detained aid workers include four Germans, two Australians and two Americans working for the German-based aid agency, Shelter Now. The foreigners, along with 16 local staff were arrested nearly two weeks ago for allegedly spreading Christianity among Afghans. They are being held in two detention centers in Kabul under tight security, and so far no one has been allowed to see them.

The Taleban says investigations are taking longer than expected because of suspicion that the aid group was involved in what it says a "larger conspiracy" to undermine Islam.

U.S. diplomat David Donahue told reporters after Thursday's meeting that the Taleban's stance is "unacceptable." He says the diplomats were again shown evidence against the foreigners, such as confiscated Bibles and computer discs. But he says they told the Taleban that they are not interested in that and want to know about the investigation process.

Mr. Donahue says the Taleban did take several bags of supplies brought by the diplomats with a promise to deliver them to the detained workers. The supplies include letters, personal items and food.

Afghanistan's Taleban is known for enforcing a strict interpretation of Islamic laws in areas of the country it controls. Under Taleban law converting to a religion other than Islam is a crime punishable by death for Afghan Muslims. Taleban officials have not explained what punishment the detained foreigners might face. They say an Islamic court would determine their fate.