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Taliban May Look at Other Agencies

Afghanistan: Rulers say 8 foreign aid workers will not be freed until after an investigation.

August 13, 2001|From Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan — The ruling Taliban militia said Sunday that it would not allow diplomats to visit eight foreign aid workers arrested and charged with trying to convert Muslims to Christianity and that other aid agencies may be investigated.

The foreign minister for the hard-line regime said officials were trying to determine whether other agencies are involved in proselytizing--a crime in this Muslim nation--and that more aid workers could come under investigation.

The detained aid workers--two Americans, four Germans and two Australians--will not be released until the investigation is complete, Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Mutawakel told reporters in Kabul, the capital. He did not specify how long that would take.

The aid workers, arrested a week ago, operated Shelter Now International, which is part of a German-based Christian humanitarian aid group called Vision for Asia. Also imprisoned were 16 Afghan staffers.

Mutawakel said investigators also will question the United Nations' World Food Program to find out why it gave food to Shelter Now International when the group had a reputation as a Christian missionary organization.

He also said diplomats from the United States, Australia and Germany--who have been trying to get Afghan visas to travel to Kabul--will not be allowed to see the foreign detainees.

Taliban officials have closed the offices of Shelter Now International and confiscated Bibles and Christian films about the coming of Jesus Christ, all translated into the local language, Dari.

At the time of the arrests, the Taliban also detained 64 boys who officials said were being indoctrinated into Christianity by the aid workers.

The youths have been released, but an unknown number of their elder male relatives have been detained--to punish them for allowing the children to undergo Christian religious education, according to the state-run Bakhtar News Agency.

It was still not clear how the Taliban will rule on the 16 Afghan staff members of Shelter Now International. The penalty for Afghans found guilty of proselytizing is death.

On Sunday, a state-run newspaper, Shariat, published an edict issued last month by the Taliban's reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, ordering a 3- to 10-day jail term and then expulsion for foreigners found guilty of proselytizing.

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