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Saturday, 6 October, 2001, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
US snubs Taleban offer
Shelter Now International director Georg Taubmann
It is not clear what penalty the aid workers face
Afghanistan's Taleban rulers are trying to ward off possible attacks by a US-led anti-terror coalition with offers to release foreigners currently detained there.

A British journalist arrested last month for entering the country illegally is to be set free unconditionally and the Taleban is offering to release eight international aid workers if the US ends threats of military action against the Afghan leadership.

If (the US) stops issuing threats, we will take steps for the release of the eight foreigners

Taleban statement
But the US rejected the Taleban offer, saying that Kabul had to hand over Saudi-born militant Osama Bin Laden and all the leaders of his al-Qaeda network.

"These demands aren't subject to negotiations," a White House official said. "It is time for actions, not words, with regards to these demands."

Taleban officials in Pakistan also said Sunday Express journalist Yvonne Ridley would be freed on Saturday or Sunday.

Ms Ridley, 41, was arrested eight days ago with her two guides close to the city of Jalalabad near Afghanistan's eastern border.

Yvonne Ridley
Yvonne Ridley is expected to be free this weekend
The release of the eight aid workers on trial for promoting Christianity is conditional upon Washington "reducing the problems of the (Afghan) people and allowing them to live with confidence and return to their homes".

"If (the Americans) stop issuing threats, we will take steps for the release of the eight foreigners," the Afghan Islamic Press agency quoted a Foreign Ministry statement from the Afghan capital of Kabul.

The foreign aid workers accused of propagating Christianity in mainly Muslim Afghanistan include two Americans, four Germans and two Australians.

Relatives heartened

John Mercer, the father of one of the Americans, Heather Mercer, said he was very heartened by the Taleban statement, and that "the issue of the detainees is now out there".

They are all employees of the German-based Christian organisation Shelter Now International.

It is not clear what penalty they face if found guilty, but the 16 Afghan staff arrested at the same time face capital punishment.

They were arrested in August after the Taleban said they had recovered thousands of Christian video and audio tapes, and bibles translated into local languages from the aid workers.

Shelter Now denies the charges, saying the the material was for personal use.

The BBC's Susannah Price
"The Taleban continue to make concilliatory noises"
John Mercer, father of detained aid worker
says the announcement that aid workers could be released is encouraging
See also:

06 Oct 01 | South Asia
Text: Taleban amnesty offer
05 Oct 01 | South Asia
Race against time for Afghan aid
06 Oct 01 | Americas
'Time running out' for Taleban
05 Sep 01 | South Asia
Taleban 'may execute' aid workers
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