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Red Cross to Visit Jailed Foreign Aid Workers in Afghanistan - 2001-08-23

Taliban authorities in Afghanistan say they will allow representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies to visit eight jailed foreign aid workers who have been accused of spreading Christianity. The development comes as parents of two of the eight have appealed to Taliban authorities for visas to travel to Kabul to see their children.

The ICRC representatives will be the first foreigners allowed to visit the eight aid workers since they were detained, earlier this month, by Taliban authorities and accused of attempting to convert Afghans to Christianity. Taliban authorities are holding four Germans, two Australians and two Americans, along with a 16 person local staff from a German-based aid group, Shelter Now International. Shelter Now officials strongly deny there was an attempt to convert Afghans to Christianity.

Three diplomats from Germany, Australia and the United States returned to Islamabad, Tuesday, after spending a week in Kabul in an unsuccessful attempt to visit with the foreigners. Officials at the Taliban embassy in Islamabad say the diplomats have reapplied for visas to visit Kabul, in another attempt to visit the eight foreigners.

Meanwhile, the parents of the two U.S. women detained have sent a letter to the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, requesting permission to travel to Kabul to visit their daughters. Taliban embassy officials in Islamabad say their visa applications, along with those of the diplomats, have been sent to Kabul for processing.

Mohammed Sohail Shaheen, a senior official at the Taliban embassy in Islamabad, says a lengthy investigation is underway and it will take some time to resolve the case. "What we can say is that the investigation is continuing and after completion off the investigation the case will be handed over to a court," he says. "The judge will decide in the light of the evidence provided to him. So, I think it is premature now, for me, or for anyone else to say whether they will leave or whether they will be held for a long time.

Taliban authorities say they are passing on letters and personal items to the detainees and say that they are in good condition.

The investigation is reported to have been expanded to include other aid groups, which Taliban authorities have complained about in the past, for allegedly interfering in Afghan affairs.