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Thursday, 13 September, 2001, 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK
Detained Afghan aid workers left behind
UN aircraft leaving Kabul
UN staff are withdrawing to neighbouring Pakistan
Diplomats representing eight foreign aid workers on trial for spreading Christianity are leaving the Afghan capital Kabul.

Most foreigners, mainly aid workers, left the country on Wednesday amid fears that the United States could retaliate for Tuesday's terror attacks in New York and Washington.


We hope that the Taleban government will take care of their personal safety and security

German diplomat Helmut Landes
The Saudi dissident Osama Bin laden, who is believed to be in hiding in Afghanistan, is being seen as the main suspect for the attacks.

"We're not happy about leaving our nationals," one diplomat told the BBC, "but we have no choice."

"We hope that the Taleban government will take care of their personal safety and security," German diplomat Helmut Landes told Reuters.

Their relatives are also leaving and Deborah Oddy, the mother of one of the detainees, Heather Mercer, wept as she left Kabul.

Trial

The United Nations is temporarily shutting down its operations in Afghanistan which means that there will be no more flights out of the country after Thursday.

It also leaves the arrested aid workers with little support.

The foreign detainees
Heather Mercer, US
Dana Curry, US
Margrit Stebnar, Germany
George Taubmann, Germany
Kati Jelinek, Germany
Silke Duerrkopf, Germany
Peter Bunch , Australia
Diana Thomas, Australia

Two Americans, two Australians, and six Germans are in detention in Kabul, on trial for spreading Christianity - a charge which could carry the death penalty.

The diplomats are leaving them in the hands of a Pakistani Islamic scholar, who will act as their legal counsel.

They are being tried by Islamic judges, in the Taleban supreme court.

By the end of the day the eight detainees will be the only foreigners left in Afghanistan, apart from journalists and a few key staff from the International Red Cross, and Medicins Sans Frontiere.

Digging in

Afghanistan is also home to many Islamic militants who are there fighting for the Taleban in the civil war including Arabs, Pakistanis and Chechens.

Deborah Oddy breaks into tears as she leaves her daughter Heather Mercer in Kabul
Mothers of the detainees wrote them farewell letters before leaving

The BBC's Afghan correspondent, Kate Clark, says it is they, not Afghans, whom aid workers fear in the case of an American military attack.

In 1998, after Washington launched cruise missiles against Osama Bin Laden, following the bombing of two American embassies in Africa, an Italian employee of the UN was shot dead.

His murderer was believed to be a Pakistani militant.

But the Reuters news agency is reporting that several Arab nationals have evacuated Kabul as well, fearing an American strike.

Other residents of the city are said to digging trenches on the outskirts of the city and building fortifications.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Peter Biles
"An unusual video disc has come to light in Pakistan"
See also:

12 Sep 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden denies blame
06 Sep 01 | South Asia
Confusion over Afghan aid trial
12 Sep 01 | South Asia
Taleban tense as US seeks targets
11 Sep 01 | South Asia
Who is Osama Bin Laden?
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