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Tuesday, 14 August, 2001, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
Taleban deny access to aid detainees
Diplomats arrive in Kabul
The diplomats arrived on a special UN flight
Diplomats from Australia, Germany and the United States have had their first meeting with Taleban officials in Kabul and requested access to eight detained foreign aid workers.

The diplomats were told that their nationals were well but have not yet been allowed to meet them.

The diplomats have said they expect to hold further meetings with the Taleban authorities on Wednesday.


We just kept asking to see the detainees

US diplomat David Donahue
The foreign aid workers are facing trial on charges of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

Sixteen Afghans working for the same organisation are also facing trial.

The Taleban have said that the diplomats will not be able to visit the jailed workers until their investigations are over.

The three officials flew in from Pakistan on a special UN flight.

Taleban protocol officer Abdul Ghafoor Afghani showed the diplomats several written confessions allegedly obtained from the aid workers.

"We just kept asking to see the detainees," US diplomat David Donahue was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

"The Taleban said they would consider our request and now we are just waiting for an answer," he said.

Charged

The eight aid workers - two Americans, two Australians and four Germans - were among 24 staff from the charity Shelter Now, arrested 10 days ago on charges of proselytism.

Materials confiscated from Shelter Now International
The foreigners are accused of spreading Christianity
Mawlawi Mohammad Wali, the Taleban's religious police minister, said the group would not be pardoned, but be dealt with according to Islamic Sharia law.

"Pardons would have been possible if they were unaware of our laws, regulations and the decrees," he said.

The statement appears to rule out hopes that the eight foreigners would be able to leave Afghanistan after serving only a brief imprisonment.

The diplomats were briefed on Monday by UN special representative Francesc Vendrell, who has just returned from talks in Kabul with senior Taleban leaders.

On Sunday, the Taleban said that an investigation into the organisation the detainees worked for - Shelter Now International - was still going on to see if it was part of a wider conspiracy to spread Christianity in Afghanistan.

The group has denied propagating Christianity.

Confusion

It is unclear which Taleban laws might apply to the foreign aid workers.

Two different decrees cover the crime of trying to persuade an Afghan to renounce Islam.

One applies to foreigners and orders deportation after a short prison term.

The other stipulates death for any Afghan who converts as well as the person who instigated the conversion.

Mr Wali said foreign aid organisations were free to come to Afghanistan to help destitute people, but they should not carry out religious activities.

He also warned that foreign institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) would be under close surveillance from now on.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kate Clark
"The diplomats have finally arrived"
See also:

12 Aug 01 | South Asia
Taleban 'investigate' aid workers
09 Aug 01 | South Asia
Taleban ease foreigner restrictions
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
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