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Detained Aid Workers Relieved to Have Red Cross Visit - 2001-08-26

The International Committee of the Red Cross has made its first visit to the eight foreign aid workers arrested by the Taleban in Afghanistan on charges of spreading Christianity. A spokeswoman at ICRC headquarters in Geneva says the aid workers were happy and relieved to get their first visit since their arrest.

Five Red Cross delegates, including medical staff, visited the eight imprisoned foreign aid workers on Sunday. They are being kept at a detention center near the Afghan capital, Kabul.

It was the first time the Taleban authorities allowed aid workers to see the eight since their arrest three weeks ago on charges of preaching Christianity. Red Cross spokeswoman Antonella Notari says she cannot discuss the conditions under which the eight are being held. She says this confidential information can only be discussed with the prisoners and Taleban authorities.

"But, what I can say is that they were very happy to receive these visits," she said. "They were probably enormously relieved and very happy to have a first contact with the world outside their detention place."

The eight foreigners work for the German charity Shelter Now. The six women and two men include four Germans, two Australians and two Americans. They were arrested three weeks ago along with 16 local Afghan workers, whose whereabouts and condition of detention are unknown. The Taleban authorities accuse all 24 workers of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

Ms. Notari says the six women and two men are being kept in separate quarters away from Afghani prisoners. She says the delegates were able to visit the prisoners in accordance with Red Cross rules.

"They were able to talk with the detainees without witnesses, in private," she said. "They were able to deliver to them two Red Cross messages which we had already received from their family members who are currently in Pakistan. And, they left some empty messages for them to write so we can later go and pick them up and be able to transmit them to their families."

Ms. Notari says no fixed date has been set for the next visit to the detainees. But, she says, they will be followed closely and on a regular basis.

On Saturday, the Taleban agreed to let Western diplomats and relatives of the eight aid workers visit them. They reportedly will receive their visas on Monday in Pakistan.