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Taleban Refuses to Extend Diplomats Visas - 2001-08-20

Afghanistan's ruling Taleban has formaly refused to extend the visas of Western diplomats trying to see eight aid workers detained for allegedly promoting Christianity. An Afghan news agency,Afghan Islamic Press, says the Taleban has returned the passports of the American, German, and Australian diplomats without extending their visas, which expire Tuesday. An official is quoted as saying they expect the diplomats to return to Pakistan by the deadline.

The three diplomats have spent a frustrating week in Kabul trying to gain access to their detained nationals.

The Taleban has denied them permission to see the detainees, saying no meetings are allowed with prisoners under investigation. Taleban officials have also advised the diplomats to return to neighboring Pakistan and wait until an investigation into the charges against the aid workers is complete. The hard-line Afghan group has warned that diplomatic visits could spoil the investigations.

The Taleban is holding four Germans, two Australians and two Americans along with 16 Afghan staff members from a German-based aid group, Shelter Now. It accuses the aid workers of spreading Christianity.

Australian Consul Alastair Adams says they are disappointed that they have not been able to check the welfare and well being of their nationals. He is quoted as telling reporters in the Afghan capital Monday that the Taleban has ignored international convention by denying access to the prisoners.

The Taleban says the fate of the foreign aid workers will be determined under Islamic laws. It has not said what punishment they might face. According to the Taleban's strict interpretation of Islamic law, Afghan Muslims converting to any other religion can face the death penalty if arrested.