- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2001

The United States yesterday accused Afghanistan's ruling Taliban of violating international norms by not allowing consular access to detained U.S. citizens, but it acknowledged there was little it could do to help two Americans jailed for proselytizing.
Calling the Taliban a "strange crowd," the State Department said the Kabul regime's handling of the matter was "insufficient" and "unacceptable."
"We have requested continued assurances from the Taliban that the health of the detainees is good, but what we want is access, so that we can make those determinations ourselves, so that we can see our nationals," said Philip Reeker, the State Department's deputy spokesman.
Washington failed to gain access to the Americans, and a U.S. official is scheduled to leave Kabul today, after a week of futile efforts to communicate effectively with the Taliban.
Officials in Kabul yesterday refused to extend the visa of the U.S. diplomat, David Donahue, consul general at the American Embassy in Islamabad, the capital of neighboring Pakistan, where he will return today, the State Department said.
"The Taliban have advised the consular officers to contact Taliban representatives in Islamabad to 'learn when the investigations of the detained aid workers have been concluded,'" Mr. Reeker said.
Mr. Donahue and diplomats from Germany and Australia arrived in Kabul last Tuesday to visit eight foreign aid workers from the German-based relief group Shelter Now. The Americans Dana Curry and Nicole Barnardhollon — were arrested Aug. 3, and their four German and two Australian co-workers were detained two days later.
The three diplomats were issued one-week visas on Aug. 13 but were denied renewals yesterday.
"As consular officers, we often run into difficult situations," Mr. Donahue said in Kabul. "We will work for consular access to our detainees, and we will also work to ensure that they are taken care of and that their well-being is taken care of and that they receive the items we passed on to them."
During a meeting last week, low-level Taliban officials agreed to accept letters, personal items and food for the detainees.
The United States, which has no diplomatic relations with the Taliban, has been struggling to find an effective way to communicate with the regime in Kabul, recognized only by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The disconnect transpired even before the three diplomats were granted visas to Afghanistan.
The State Department kept insisting that Mr. Donahue's goal in Kabul was to visit the detainees. At the same time, the Taliban made very clear that the diplomats could meet with Taliban officials but would not be allowed to see the aid workers before the investigation was completed.
Nevertheless, Mr. Donahue remained in Kabul, hoping to persuade the Taliban officials to change their minds. But Mr. Reeker said Mr. Donahue wasn't even given a reason for being denied access to the detainees.
"We haven't got satisfactory responses to that," he said.
The penalty the detainees might face also is not clear, with the possibilities ranging from the death sentences provided for by Islamic law to expulsion.
The Taliban said last week the workers probably would receive five-year sentences if convicted, while the 16 Afghans arrested along with the foreigners would have to be executed.
The Taliban says materials confiscated from the office of Shelter Now support the charges against the workers. The detainees deny they were converting Muslims to Christianity.
Severe clashes between Taliban forces and opposition groups were reported yesterday, leaving four Taliban fighters dead.
The fighting erupted in Takhar province in northern Afghanistan, with the opposition saying it had captured 18 posts near the provincial capital, Taloqan.
Opposition officials, who blamed Taliban fighters for initiating the fighting after a lull of several weeks, were quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying the clashes began early yesterday and continued for seven hours.

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