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ICRC to Meet with Taleban in Afghanistan Saturday

The International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, says it hopes to meet with Taleban authorities in Afghanistan on Saturday to discuss a visit by Red Cross officials with eight imprisoned foreign aid workers.

Taleban authorities have said they would allow the Red Cross to visit the detained aid workers, who are accused of spreading Christianity. Red Cross officials hope to be able to assess the conditions of the detainees, who have not been allowed a visit by any foreigners since they were detained earlier this month.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is fairly optimistic that it will be able to meet the detained aid workers (four Germans, two Australians and two Americans).

A Red Cross spokesman, Juan Martinez, says the Taleban foreign minister on Thursday said Red Cross delegates most likely would be allowed to meet with Taleban authorities on Saturday to discuss the visit. "The meeting, which takes place on Saturday, I hope, will be the place to discuss the modalities of the visit of the ICRC for sure," he said. "If we gain access to the detainees, then okay. The goal of this visit is to assess the condition and the detention conditions of these people."

The eight foreign aid workers belong to the German non-governmental organization, Shelter Now International. They, along with 16 Afghans, were arrested early this month. The Taleban authorities accuse them of spreading Christianity in the overwhelmingly Muslim country, a crime which could be punishable by death.

The Red Cross formally offered to visit the detainees August 7. Until now, the neutral humanitarian organization has had no contact with the Taleban authorities. The foreign aid workers have been isolated since their arrest, and Mr. Martinez says they are sure to welcome a visit. "Once we will have visited these people, we will do what we always do in this situation," he said. "It means that we will assess the needs. If there are any needs, we will try to supply the needs with the agreement of the Taleban. We will also give some news to the families of these detainees. That is very important for sure. We will also give information, news from these families to the detainees. Well, this is very important psychologically."

Mr. Martinez says the visit with the Christian aid workers will take place privately, without any witnesses present. He says Red Cross delegates also hope to visit the 16 Afghans who were arrested along with the foreign workers.