Taliban Shun Diplomats over Detained Foreigners
Afghanistan's Taliban militia has shunned three Western diplomats trying to gain access to eight aid workers detained for allegedly preaching Christianity, officials said Wednesday.
The US, Australian and German envoys might leave the Afghan capital as early as Thursday having made no progress with the fundamentalist Islamic militia over requests to visit the prisoners, sources said.
Afghan Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Mutawakel left Kabul Wednesday without seeing the Pakistan-based diplomats, who have met only low-ranking foreign ministry officials since their arrival here Tuesday.
"We have clearly told them they wouldn't have access to the detainees until the investigation is over," Mutawakel told AFP late Tuesday.
"They are now here to talk and negotiate with the authorities of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban), because we have issued them the visas for this purpose only."
The Taliban has ignored international conventions on consular access, saying the two Americans, two Australians and four Germans will have no contact with the outside world until investigations are over.
The foreigners, arrested here between August 3 and 5, are being held in two detention centres in Kabul under tight guard, along with 16 Afghan colleagues from a German-based aid group.
Taliban officials have not explained what charges will be laid against them or what punishment they might face, although the religious police have refused to rule out the death penalty.
Protocol chief Abdul Ghafoor Afghani told Afghan Islamic Press there was "no change in the Taliban's stand regarding allowing a meeting between detained aid workers and the visiting diplomats".
Taliban ministers discussed the diplomats' request at a regular weekly meeting Wednesday but so far there had been no change of heart, officials said.
A foreign ministry official said the secretive militia was considering allowing a journalist from the state-run news agency to interview the detainees and play the recording to the diplomats.
The diplomats were meanwhile holed up in a United Nations guesthouse, having refused the Taliban's offer of accommodation.
"We want access (to the detainees) now and immediately," US State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Tuesday, after the diplomats' first day in Kabul proved fruitless.
While the Taliban continue to give assurances that the detainees are in good health, "these assurances are not the equivalent of full consular access", Reeker said.
US consul official David Donahue "will remain in Kabul, and we're going to continue to press the Taliban for access to the detainees, who continue to be our main concern," he said.
"We want to be able to meet with them to ensure they're not being mistreated, and indeed that they're being treated fairly," Reeker added.
The United States has warned the Taliban, which it accuses of supporting terrorism and drug trafficking, that it would be held responsible for the well-being of the detainees.
The three countries do not maintain embassies in Afghanistan because they do not recognise the fundamentalist Islamic militia, which seized Kabul in 1996 and imposed a puritanical brand of Sharia law.
Anyone found preaching Christianity, regarded as an "abolished religion" in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, faces the death penalty, although for foreigners punishment may be limited to a few days in prison followed by deportation -- KABUL (AFP)
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