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Taleban Completes Investigation of Aid Workers - 2001-09-03

Afghanistan's ruling Taleban Islamic movement says it has completed its investigation of eight foreign aid workers accused of spreading Christianity in the country. Taleban officials say the case has been sent to the Supreme Court, and a trial could be held soon.

The Taleban is holding four Germans, two Americans and two Australians from the German-based aid group, Shelter Now. They were rounded up in Kabul along with 16 local staff in early August and accused of preaching Christianity.

Teleban officials say their month-long investigation into the activities of the aid workers is now complete. They says the case has been sent to the Taleban's Supreme Court for a final decision.

Taleban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef told reporters a trial may come in the next days. Mr. Zaeef says it is now up to the Supreme Court to decide under Islamic law on how to proceed. He says the aid workers may be put on trial Tuesday or Wednesday and it will be open to journalists, diplomats and relatives of the accused.

Three diplomats from the United States, Germany and Australia are in the Afghan capital along with the parents of two American detainees to monitor the situation.

Taleban ambassador Zaeef says the foreigners and Afghans will be tried separately by the same court. Mr. Zaeef says the court will abide by the country's Islamic laws. The Taleban representative says the sentence passed on the foreigners would be different from their 16 Afghan colleagues.

Under the Taleban's law, the foreign detainees face jail and expulsion from the country if convicted. The Afghan nationals could be sentenced to death.

Taleban authorities say they have strong evidence that the foreign detainees were involved in trying to convert Afghan Muslims. They have displayed boxes of Bibles and other Christian material confiscated from Shelter Now offices. The Bibles and other literature were translated into local Pashto and Dari languages. The aid group has denied the charges against its workers.

On Friday, Taleban authorities ordered aid workers from the U.S. based International Assistance Mission and the international aid group, SERVE, to leave Afghanistan. The Taleban says its investigation had indicated members of the two groups were connected to Shelter Now.