Taliban Ambassador Rebuffs US, Australian, German Envoys
Afghanistan's Taliban militia was unmoved Friday as senior US, Australian and German diplomats presented a united front to demand consular access to eight detained aid workers.
"Words, words, words but no visas," one frustrated German diplomat told AFP after envoys met Taliban Ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef at the Islamic militia's compound in the Pakistani capital.
Acting US Ambassador to Pakistan Michele Sison, Australian High Commissioner Howard Brown and German charge d'affaires Gunter Overfeld met the Taliban ambassador to plea for consular access to the prisoners.
Embassy spokesmen said they repeated demands for access to the two Americans, two Australians and four Germans detained in Kabul since the weekend under harsh Islamic laws against preaching Christianity.
Official requests for diplomatic visas have been with the Taliban embassy here for several days but so far there has been no response from the foreign ministry in Kabul, despite assurances the documents will be issued.
Zaeef told reporters after the one-hour meeting that the visas might be ready later Friday, a holiday in Kabul, or on Saturday.
"We have promised that we will try to get the visas but I cannot set a time frame," he said.
The three countries do not maintain embassies in the war-torn Afghan capital as they refuse to recognize the Taliban fundamentalist Islamic regime, which captured Kabul in 1996.
"We remain concerned about the welfare of the two Americans who are reported to have been arrested," a US embassy spokesman told AFP, adding the Taliban had not even confirmed that the Americans were being held.
"We're trying to get to Kabul as quickly as possible."
The foreigners, two men and six women, were among 24 people arrested for allegedly preaching Christianity to Afghan Muslims, a crime punishable by death according to police in Kabul.
Brown told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he hoped the Australian aid workers, Peter Bunch and Dianna Thomas, would be freed during the planned consular trip to Kabul.
"We envisage the Australian consul being there for about two days. We're extremely hopeful that the Taliban authorities will decide to release these people within this period of time," he said.
Taliban police say they have found thousands of computer disks and several Bibles used for missionary work, and warned that the foreigners could face a maximum penalty of death depending on the result of investigations.
"We're cooperating very closely with our German and American counterparts," Brown said.
"Firstly we want to make contact with the two Australians who have been detained by the Taliban authorities.
"We want to persuade the Taliban authorities to release these people as soon as possible."
A German embassy spokesman said he understood that the detainees, staff of German-based aid group Shelter Now, were being treated well in the custody of the hardline Taliban religious police.
"We still haven't had any contact with them but we have heard that they are being well treated," he said -- ISLAMABAD (AFP)
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