Diplomats urge Taliban to allow monitoring of foreigners' trial
KABUL, Aug 28 (AFP) - Western governments Tuesday requested permission to monitor the proposed trial of eight aid workers detained by Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia for allegedly preaching Christianity.
But the fate of the two Americans, two Australians and four Germans, arrested more than three weeks ago, was no clearer following the first consular visit here late Monday.
"Today we have started discussions with the ministry of foreign affairs in order to monitor the procedure and hopefully we might have other talks," said Pakistan-based German consul Helmut Landes.
The fundamentalist militia plans to bring the aid workers to trial before an Islamic court.
Landes said further meetings with the prisoners had been arranged during Tuesday's talks with the Taliban.
"We have not heard any complaints about their well-being, their conditions and the food they are eating," he said a day after diplomats met the captives, staff of German group Shelter Now, for the first time.
"We have arranged other meetings with the detainees but I do not know if it will be today or tomorrow (Wednesday)."
The diplomats returned to the foreign ministry for a second round of talks Tuesday afternoon and foreign ministry sources said officials from the justice ministry and the powerful religious police could be involved.
Taliban officials said the US, German and Australian consuls were demanding more information on how long the prisoners could expect to remain in custody before being charged, tried and sentenced.
"The diplomats want to know what the authorities are going to do with the detainees -- will they expel them once the investigations are completed or are they contemplating some other punishment," a foreign ministry official said.
Taliban religious police arrested the Westerners, plus 16 Afghan colleagues, in early August and later displayed thousands of computer disks carrying Christian material and Afghan-language Bibles found in their possession.
Shelter Now has denied that it is involved in missionary work but the Taliban claims to have written confessions.
Officials say the foreigners will face trial in an Islamic court but the charges and the likely punishment have not been explained.
The death penalty has not been ruled out but punishment for the foreigners, if found guilty, could be limited to a brief prison term followed by expulsion from the country.
The mother of one of the young American women in custody and the father of another were also allowed to meet their daughters Monday but they refused to talk to the press afterwards.
"Naturally the detainees were very pleased to see us, especially those of course who have had their parents come a long way and I think it certainly lifted their spirits," Australian consul Alastar Adams said after Monday's meeting.
The Taliban had previously dismissed requests to follow international procedure and allow consular access, raising concerns that psychological pressure was being used as part of the interrogations.
Investigations have expanded to determine whether Shelter Now was part of a broader "conspiracy", possibly involving United Nations agencies, to undermine the Taliban's Islamic Emirate, according to officials.
The condition of the 16 Afghans is unknown as they are believed to have had no contact with the outside world since their arrest.
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