INTRO: A team from the International Committee of the Red Cross visited eight detained foreign aid workers in Afghanistan on Sunday. The eight stand accused of trying to convert Afghans to Christianity. V-O-A's Jim Teeple reports from Islamabad foreign diplomats and some relatives of the aid workers are expected to travel to Kabul on Monday or Tuesday to see the detainees.
TEXT: A Red Cross medical team spent several hours with the detainees on Sunday. Red Cross officials say the six women and two men being held at a detention center in Kabul are in good condition. Taleban authorities are holding four Germans, two Australians and two Americans along with 16 local Afghan staffers from a German-based aid group, Shelter Now International. Taleban authorities say they have evidence the aid workers tried to convert Afghans to Christianity. Shelter Now officials deny the allegations.
The Red Cross visitors were the first foreigners to see the eight aid workers since they were picked up three weeks ago. Taleban officials in Islamabad say diplomats from Germany, Australia and the United States, as well as several family members of the detainees, will also be traveling to Kabul soon to see the detainees.
Taleban authorities say they are allowing the visits because the first phase of their investigation into the allegations of conversions is now complete. Mohammed Sohail Shaheen, a senior official at the Taleban embassy in Islamabad says Afghans need and appreciate foreign aid, but any attempts at religious conversion in the Islamic state will not be tolerated.
// SHAHEEN ACTUALITY ///
This issue touches religion. As we said that we do appreciate humanitarian work by the NGO's and by the United Nations and by any country, which have been cooperating with us and giving aid to the Afghan people in this time of hardship and suffering while our people are suffering from sanctions, drought unemployment and poverty. But proselytizing or the propagation of religion, any religion, is not acceptable to the Afghans.
// END ACTUALITY //
The investigation by Taleban authorities into allegations that Shelter Now workers were attempting to convert Afghans to Christianity has now been expanded to include other aid groups which Taleban authorities have complained about in the past for allegedly interfering in Afghan affairs.
Taleban officials say the investigation into Shelter Now could go on for quite some time, and if found guilty the foreign aid workers could be either jailed or expelled from Afghanistan, or both. For the local employees of Shelter Now the situation is more serious. If they are found guilty of either having converted to Christianity or attempting to convert others, they could be executed. (SIGNED)