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Parents in Kabul to Visit Jailed Foreign Aid Workers - 2001-08-27

The parents of two jailed Americans and three Western diplomats are in the Afghan capital, Kabul to visit a group of imprisoned foreign aid workers accused of preaching Christianity. Senior Taleban officials say the aid workers could be tried by an Islamic court.

Taleban officials say the diplomats and relatives are being allowed to visit the detainees because the initial investigation into their alleged activities has been completed.

After arriving in the Afghan capital late Monday, the Western group was immediately taken to the detention center where the aid workers are being held by Afghanistan's ruling Taleban.

An International Red Cross delegation met with the foreign aid workers Sunday and delivered letters from family members. Red Cross doctors, who examined the detainees, said they were in good spirits, but the doctors refused to comment on the detainees' physical condition.

The Red Cross visit was the aid workers' first contact with the outside world since they were detained three weeks ago.

Taleban authorities are holding four Germans, two Australians and two Americans, along with 16 local staff members of the German-based aid group, Shelter Now. The Taleban says it has evidence that the aid workers were trying to convert Afghans to Christianity. The group denies the charge.

In neighboring Pakistan, Taleban ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef told reporters the investigation into the activities of the aid workers continues. Mr. Zaeef says it is possible that the investigation will be completed soon, and the case will then be handed over to an Islamic court for trial. Taleban authorities have not said what punishment the foreign aid workers might face if they are found guilty of spreading Christianity in Afghanistan.

Under their strict interpretation of Islamic laws, any Afghan Muslim converting to any other religion faces a possible death penalty. Taleban authorities in Kabul say that during their investigation, the Afghan prisoners have told them they have not abandoned their religion.

Since the Taleban took control over most of Afghanistan nearly five years ago, international human rights organizations and many governments have criticized the Islamic faction for its human rights record. Under the Taleban's strict interpretation of Islam, women are barred from working outside the home and most girls are prohibited from receiving an education.