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Monday, 6 August, 2001, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
Afghan aid workers 'face trial soon'
Taleban officials
Afghanistan's Taleban rulers follow a purist form of Islam
Twenty-four aid workers arrested in Afghanistan on charges of promoting Christianity will be judged according to Islamic law, the ruling Taleban militia has said.

The United Nations says it is concerned for the well-being of the group, who work for the international aid agency Shelter Now.

We were able to capture the two women red-handed

Taleban Deputy Minister for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice
So far, no-one has been allowed to visit the detainees, believed to include four Germans, two Americans and two Australians.

A senior Taleban official said those arrested, who include eight foreigners, had "confessed to the crime" and will be tried soon.

In January, the Taleban's supreme leader, Mullar Mohammad Omar, decreed that anyone convicted of trying to persuade an Afghan Muslim to convert would face the death penalty.

Material 'on computer'

The Taleban religious police say they caught two women - an American and an Australian - showing Christian material to an Afghan family on a computer in their home in the capital, Kabul.

The Taleban Deputy Minister for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice, Mohammad Salim Haqqani, told the French news agency AFP: "We have been following this group for a long time and finally on Friday afternoon we were able to capture the two women red-handed."

Buddha statues
The Taleban destroyed two ancient Buddha carvings, claiming they were idolatry
More arrests followed, including that of the group's German director.

The agency's offices and a school where the group was teaching 65 children were also closed down.

Mr Haqqani said the detainees are all being treated well and had no messages for their families or governments.

However, United Nations spokesman Letizia Rossana said the arrests were "a major concern" and followed an increasing trend of foreign aid workers in Afghanistan being harassed.

A spokesman for the American embassy in neighbouring Pakistan said officials had managed to contact Taleban officials, but were not been able to confirm if any Americans were among those arrested.

An embassy spokesman told AFP: "We are seeking a swift resolution to this issue."

Aid work

Shelter Now describes itself as a non-governmental organisation involved in food distribution, water supplies and helping street children.

The Taleban, however, says its activities are a front for propagating Christianity.

The Taleban militia, which controls 95% of the country, follows a purist form of Islam and takes a hard line towards minority religions in Afghanistan.

The regime provoked a storm of international criticism earlier this year for destroying two ancient Buddhist monuments, which it said were idolatrous, and for proposing members of Afghanistan's tiny Hindu community wear yellow stars for identification.

The BBC's Kate Clark, in Islamabad
"Propagating Christianity is one of the most serious offences under Taleban law"
BBC's Pashta and Persian Service, Baqer Moin
"The situation in Afghanistan is desperate"
See also:

06 Aug 01 | South Asia
Taleban crackdown on Christian relief
29 May 01 | South Asia
Afghan UN bread talks fail
16 Aug 00 | South Asia
Taleban shuts women's bakeries
28 Jun 00 | South Asia
Annan: Kabul's grim future
20 Jul 00 | South Asia
Ban on Afghan women to stay
11 Jan 00 | South Asia
Afghanistan: Women under Taleban rule
10 Mar 01 | South Asia
Icon smashing - the precedents
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
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