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No Access To Aid Workers

Three Western diplomats in Kabul to seek access to eight foreign aid workers detained for promoting Christianity came up empty handed Tuesday when Afghanistan's ruling Taliban again denied permission.

Soon after arriving on a U.N. flight from Islamabad in neighboring Pakistan, the diplomats from Australia, Germany and the United States met the hard-line Islamist Taliban's foreign ministry protocol chief, Abdul Ghafour Afghani.

"We have asked for contacts to the detainees. We are waiting for a response," said David Donahue, consul general from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.

Diplomats in Islamabad said by late Tuesday afternoon there had still been no easing of the Taliban stance.

Afghani said he told the diplomats they could not visit the detainees, who include two Australians, four Germans, two Americans and 16 Afghans, all of whom worked for German-based Christian relief agency Shelter Now International and are in their second week of captivity.

"Surely they want to pay a visit to the detainees and I conveyed the latest position to them that up to now it has been denied. I will convey their demand to the higher authorities," he said.

"They demanded that they wanted to know about what the exact allegations were. We also showed the papers in which the detainees had confessed that they were showing these CDs in an Afghan home," Afghani added.

The Taliban, which espouses a purist form of Islam, say they have seized a massive haul of Christian material, much of it in local Dari and Pashto languages, although none of the arrested Afghans has admitted becoming an apostate.

Afghani said discussions also included the health of the eight foreign detainees and their well-being.

Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil told Reuters Television there had been no change in the Taliban stance and the diplomats would not be able to meet their detained nationals.

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press quoted Muttawakil as saying an Islamic Sharia court would decide the fate of all those arrested, including the foreigners.

Under the Taliban's strict interpretation of Sharia law all those arrested could face execution if convicted of either converting Afghan Muslims, or having converted from Islam.

A June decree provides for foreigners guilty of proselytizing to be expelled but Taliban officials say the movement's supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has the final say.

A Taliban official said that among those held were two Americans — Dana Curry and Nicole Barnardhollon; four Germans — George Taubmann, Margrit Stebnar, Kati Jelinek and Silke Duerrkopf; and two Australians, Peter Bunch and Diana Thomas. The remaining detainees were Afghans.

Shelter Now International is run in Afghanistan by the German-based Christian relief agency called Vision for Asia.

A spokesman for Vision for Asia in the United States said his group was concerned about the welfare of their workers and denied that they were proselytiing.

Inside Afghanistan
Read CBS News Anchor Dan Rather's series of reports:

Part One: Aftermath Of A War Of Terror

Part Two: Afghanistan's Veil Of Oppression

Part Three: An Afghan In America

"We happen to be a Christian-based organization, but our purpose for being in Afghanistan is to render assistance to the Afghan people. That has always been our main objective," said Mike Heil of Vision for Asia office in Monroe, Mich. "It has been a terrible situation in Afghanistan for some time."

The Taliban's minister for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice, Mawlavi Mohammad Wali, has ruled out a pardon for the detainees saying they were aware of their activities despite a clear ban by the Taliban on proselytizing.

Wali added that all foreign institutions and nongovernmental organizations in Afghanistan will now be put under surveillance to ensure they do not spread other religions.

The Taliban previously said the U.N. World Food Program, which is active in Afghanistan and which Shelter Now assists in food distribution to Afghan refugees across the border in Pakistan, should prepare itself for "serious dialogue."

Afghani, when asked by CNN if other aid agencies or donor organizations were involved, said: "Surely, even some of the funding agencies are found (to be) involved."

The announcement of surveillance sent alarm bells ringing at the main Afghan donors comprising 15 nations, including European Union countries, Japan, the United States and Switzerland.

The Taliban has been internationally condemned for its human rights record — particularly against women — and for destroying Afghanistan's pre-Islamic heritage, including giant ancient Buddhas in central Bamiyan province.

The Taliban is under U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to expel Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden for trial in the United States.

©MMI, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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