Taliban permits diplomats to meet aid workers


Diplomats from Australia, the United States and Germany are expected to be granted visas for Afghanistan on Tuesday to visit eight foreign aid workers jailed three weeks ago on charges of promoting Christianity.

An Australian foreign office spokesman said today the Australian High Commission in neighbouring Pakistan was informed overnight that visas would be issued tomorrow and access to the eight looked likely.

All the indications are that they will be allowed access to (the aid workers). The diplomats were expected to travel on a United Nations flight into Afghanistan where no western nations have a diplomatic presence as they do not recognise the radical Islamic Taliban as the legitimate leadership.

Previous attempts by diplomats to visit the detained workers have been unsuccessful and no-one has sighted the group since their arrest, although Taliban officials have assured diplomats that they are being well treated and in good health.

Islamabad-based diplomats from Germany, Australia and the United States spent a futile week in Kabul, returning to the Pakistani capital last Tuesday, after convincing the Taliban only to pass on personal items.

The Taliban, which claims to have recovered bibles and CD-roms about Jesus Christ in the local languages of Dari and Pashto, said no access would be granted until its investigations were completed.

Spreading Christianity or converting to the faith can be punishable by death under the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islamic law.

The arrests followed months of worsening relations between the Taliban and foreign aid organisations helping Afghans suffering long years of war and a devastating drought.

The movement has been internationally condemned for its human rights record -particularly with regard to women - and for destroying Afghanistan's pre-Islamic heritage, including giant ancient Buddhas hewn from cliffs in Bamiyan.