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UN WFP Hopeful Afghanistan Will Not Execute Aid Workers - 2001-08-28

The United Nations World Food Program says it is hopeful that Afghanistan will not execute 24 aid workers accused of Christian preaching in the Islamic nation.

Catherine Bertini, executive director of the U.N.'s World Food Program, said she hopes Afghanistan's ruling Taleban will not decide to impose the death penalty on aid workers detained for proselytizing. "It's impossible to comprehend it would be so terrible. I'd rather not even speculate about that horror," she said. "I would hope that it would never happen with people of good will making the decisions."

The aid workers, two Americans, two Australians, four Germans and 16 Afghans, were detained three weeks ago in Afghanistan for allegedly preaching Christianity in the devout Muslim nation.

Taleban religious police arrested the westerners and their Afghan colleagues with the German-based relief agency, Shelter Now. The group denies their workers were trying to convert anyone.

Taleban officials say the foreigners are to face trial in an Islamic court.

The Taleban is also investigating whether other aid groups, including the U.N.'s food program, have also been involved in illegal religious activities.

Ms. Bertini, speaking to reporters in Bangkok, denied that the World Food Program has being doing anything wrong. She said the investigation is likely to come up empty handed. "If they investigate, there's nothing to find," she said. "The WFP is not in any shape or form a religious or ideological agency. We have partners all over the world."

The WFP is currently working with non-governmental aid organizations in Afghanistan, which together have helped provide 140,000 tons of food this year to nearly four million Afghans stricken by drought and civil war.