Taliban tells diplomats no access to detainees
By Syed Salahuddin
Tuesday August 14, 4:40 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - Three western diplomats arrived in Kabul on Tuesday hoping to see eight foreign aid workers held on charges of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity, but Afghanistan's ruling Taliban again ruled out consular access.
"We have come here to see the detainees and find a final solution to this case," said German Consul Helmut Landes, who arrived in Kabul on a U.N. flight with fellow diplomats from Australia and the United States.
"We are hopeful to have access to the detainees ... for that reason we have come here," he added.
The diplomats went straight to the United Nations office in Kabul and were later due to meet the Taliban's protocol chief and other leaders.
A Taliban foreign ministry official, who asked not to named, said: "There is no possibility of them visiting the detainees."
Two Americans, two Australians, four Germans and 16 Afghans belonging to German-based Christian relief agency Shelter Now International are now in their second week of captivity.
Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) an Islamic Sharia court would decide the fate of all those arrested.
"Once the investigations are complete the case of the detained people will be given to the (Sharia) court for it to decide on punishment," AIP quoted him as saying. "This applies to both locals and foreigners."
Under the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law all those arrested could face execution if convicted of either converting Afghan Muslims, or having converted from Islam.
A June decree provides for foreigners guilty of proselytising to be expelled but Taliban officials say the movement's supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has the final say.
The Taliban says it has seized a massive collection of Christian material from Shelter Now, although none of the arrested Afghans have admitted becoming an apostate.
The Taliban's minister for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice, Mawlavi Mohammad Wali, has ruled out a pardon for the detainees saying they were aware of their activities despite a clear ban by Taliban on proselytising.
He added that all foreign institutions and non-governmental organisations in Afghanistan will now be put under surveillance to ensure that they do not spread other religions.
That announcement sent alarm bells ringing at the main Afghan donors comprising 15 nations, including European Union countries, Japan, the United States and Switzerland.
Their envoys met in Islamabad on Monday under the banner of the Afghan Support Group (AIG) to discuss the latest Taliban move saying they were concerned about the situation.
The group also said that the safety of aid workers and the need for clear information about the situation of nationals from donor countries was a vital prerequisite for humanitarian work.
"ASG members therefore call in the strongest possible terms on the Taliban authorities to grant the requested consular access and to resolve expeditiously the case of the detained aid workers," the group said in a statement.
Francesc Vendrell, U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, who met Taliban leaders in Afghanistan over the weekend, has also warned of an international outcry if the case was not quickly resolved.
"I would hope that the Taliban realise that there would be a major international outcry if this situation were to prolong itself or if the (detained) Afghans were not to be dealt with in a lenient way," Vendrell told Reuters Television.
The Taliban is under U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to expel Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden for trial in the United States.
The Taliban have been internationally condemned for their human rights record -- particularly against women -- and for destroying Afghanistan's pre-Islamic heritage, including giant ancient Buddhas hewn out of cliffs in central Bamiyan province.
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