Diplomats get nowhere in talks with Taliban over detained foreigners
Tuesday August 14, 7:53 PM
KABUL, Aug 14 (AFP) - Australian, German and US diplomats met Taliban militia officials here Tuesday to try to secure the early release of eight foreigners detained for allegedly preaching Christianity.
The three envoys flew from neighbouring Pakistan in a bid to visit the detainees but were told to wait until investigations are finished, Taliban officials said.
"We requested access and they took our request into consideration and will take that to the higher authorities," US envoy David Donahue told reporters after talks with Taliban protocol officials.
Protocol chief Abdul Ghafoor Afghani said the diplomats inquired about the welfare of the two Americans, two Australians and four Germans, who have not been seen since their arrest between August 3 and 5.
"We gave a full guarantee of their health as we have all along," he said.
"We also showed them written confessions that these detainees had shown (Christian audio-visual material) to an Afghan family. They also wrote that they were not aware it would create this many problems."
Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Mutawakel told AFP that the diplomats would not be given consular access to the detained aid workers until investigations are complete.
"After the completion of investigations their cases will be handed over to the court which will decide their punishment. This order is both for foreigners and nationals," he earlier told the Afghan Islamic Press.
"I cannot comment on the nature of the punishment. It is the job of the court."
The aid workers were among 24 mostly Afghan staff of the German-based group Shelter Now who were arrested for alleged proselytising in the hardline Islamic state.
They have been held in two detention centres in Kabul and denied contact with the outside world.
The Taliban has not ruled out the death penalty, although officials refuse to explain the exact charges against them.
"We have come here to see the detainees and find a final solution to this case," said German consul Helmut Landes, who was accompanied by Donahue and Australian consul Alastar Adams.
Afghani said investigations were taking longer than expected because "many more links are being discovered," but he did not elaborate.
Mutawakel on Sunday hinted that the United Nations World Food Programme was also under suspicion as it had provided funding to Shelter Now's food projects in the war-torn country.
Taliban religious police minister Mullah Mohammad Wali Akhund on Monday dismissed any hope of pardons for the aid workers and claimed their arrest as a victory for the Islamic world.
"It is a great victory for Muslims around the world that these things have been discovered," he said.
He said they would be dealt with according to the militia's hardline Sharia law.
Anyone found preaching Christianity -- regarded as an "abolished religion" in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan -- faces the death penalty, although for punishment for foreigners may be limited to a few days in prison followed by expulsion.
The three countries do not maintain embassies in the war-torn Afghan capital as they refuse to recognise the fundamentalist Islamic regime which has ruled Kabul since 1996.
The United States accuses the Taliban of harbouring indicted terrorist Osama bin Laden, and for security reasons does not normally allow its officials to enter the country.
The Afghan Support Group of some 15 donor countries met in Pakistan Monday and later urged the militia to allow consular visits.
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