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Monday, 20 August, 2001, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
Last-ditch bid to see aid workers
Australian consul Alastair Adams (left), German diplomat Helmut Landes (centre) and David Donahue, US consular officer (right)
The diplomats say they will try to return to Kabul
Diplomats are making last-minute attempts to gain access to eight foreign aid workers arrested in Afghanistan for allegedly trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.


Now there is no possibility of extending their visas and we will return the passports of the three [on Monday]

Taleban foreign ministry spokesman
The Taleban authorities said they would return the passports of the three diplomats and expected them to return to Islamabad in Pakistan, where they are based, on Tuesday when their visas expired.

The diplomats, who are trying to see the detainees - two Americans, two Australians and four Germans - were given one-week visas when they arrived in Kabul last week.

Australian consul Alastair Adams said a final meeting was being sought on Monday with the Taleban to see if there could be any change of heart, but that so far nothing had been scheduled.

The diplomats would try to return to Afghanistan as soon as possible to renew their requests to visit the aid workers, Mr Adams added.

"We do want to return to Afghanistan when the Afghan authorities will allow us to return. Primarily we want to come to visit the detainees," he said.

No access

Taleban officials have said diplomatic visits could spoil investigations which had expanded to include other foreign aid agencies in the war-torn country.

Food handover
The diplomats were allowed to hand over food for the prisoners

"We have already told them they will not be allowed to meet the detainees as an investigation is under way. We fail to understand why they continue to insist on a meeting," Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Mutawakel said on Saturday.

The Taleban have also refused to allow the prisoners to write to their families.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, at the weekend accused the Taleban of violating international law by denying the detainees consular access.

Mr Annan warned that the continued detention of the aid workers could affect crucial humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, which is suffering from the effects of war, poverty and drought.

"The secretary-general appeals to the Taleban for a speedy solution in line with international norms and obligations," a UN statement said.

Charges

The eight aid workers from the charity Shelter Now International were arrested in early August on charges of proselytising, along with 16 Afghan colleagues.

They all face trial under Taleban laws, although it is unclear which ones might apply to the foreigners.

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.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kate Clark
"Their pleas for consular access on humanitarian grounds... have proved futile."
See also:

18 Aug 01 | South Asia
Taleban advise diplomats to leave
14 Aug 01 | South Asia
Taleban deny access to aid detainees
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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