Taliban to conclude probe of Western aid workers soon
By Sayed Salahuddin
Sunday September 2, 4:28 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's ruling Taliban will soon finish an investigation of eight Western aid workers detained on suspicion of promoting Christianity, a Pakistan-based Afghan news service reported on Saturday.
"In the next few days their investigation would be over. Then their case will be sent to the court...for a decision," the Afghan Islamic Press quoted Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil as saying.
Muttawakil was speaking to AIP by telephone from the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, the headquarters of the Islamic Taliban movement.
Eight foreigners -- two Americans, two Australians and four Germans -- are in their fifth week of detention in the Afghan capital Kabul, charged with promoting Christianity in this deeply Islamic country. All the eight and 16 local staff, also arrested, worked for the German-based Shelter Now International.
Three Pakistan-based Western diplomats have been in Kabul since Monday to meet their detained nationals, ensure their welfare and ultimately to seek their release.
The Taliban allowed on Saturday a U.S. diplomat along with relatives to visit two detained American women for more than three and a half hours, but in the presence of local officials.
John Mercer, the father of one of the detainees, and Nancy Cassell, the mother of the other, told reporters that both were in good health and were looked after well by the Taliban.
Mercer said the six female detainees play cards during the day and read books while they are separated at night.
"I would prefer that we are allowed to take our daughters home as quickly as possible. That is why we came here as parents to take care of them and bring them home. They would like to get to their homes as soon as possible," Mercer said.
AID WORKERS LEAVE
The expatriate staff of two Christian humanitarian organisations began leaving Afghanistan on Saturday, a day after the Taliban ordered their expulsion and raided their offices.
"Some have already gone and the rest of us are making final preparations for leaving in the face of Taliban's notification," one of the staff of the International Assistance Mission (IAM), who declined to be named, told Reuters.
On Friday the Taliban said all foreign staff of IAM and Serve, which have operations in several key cities, must leave the country within 72 hours.
AIP reported that six staff of Serve and two female workers of IAM arrived in Pakistan after crossing the Torkham border with Afghanistan at about 2:30 p.m. (0930 GMT) on foot and leaving their vehicles behind.
The Taliban have not explained the reason for their expulsion, but say the decision followed frequent reports and complaints about the activities of the two organisations.
AIP quoted Muttawakil as assuring other relief organisations working in the war-torn country that no other foreign aid group was under scrutiny for preaching Christianity.
"Other NGOs (non-governmental organisations) are not under scrutiny...I want other NGOs to work without any fear in Afghanistan and Taliban will support them if they do not violate our laws," AIP quoted Muttawakil as saying.
Muttawakil said the Taliban had closed down the offices of IAM and Serve, on reports of relief agencies involvement in promoting Christianity.
"There offices were closed as a precautionary step," Muttawakil added.
The Taliban say none of the foreign personnel of the two agencies has been arrested.
But Western sources said that four British nationals working for IAM in the western city of Herat and several unidentified foreigners in the eastern city of Jalalabad have been detained.
"I have heard about the arrests too," the IAM official said.
Muttawakil denied these reports.
"It is not true that we have arrested any staff of the IAM or Serve, we have given them 72 hours to leave Afghanistan," he added.
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