- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2001

A Taliban official yesterday predicted that two Americans and six others detained in Afghanistan on charges of proselytizing Muslims would be able to return home soon and would be allowed to bring in lawyers for their upcoming trial.
Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, the Taliban's liaison representative to the United Nations in New York, lashed out at the United States and the Western media for blowing out of proportion the case of eight foreign aid workers, who also include four Germans and two Australians. But he said he was "optimistic" that the incident would have a speedy resolution.
"This case is not so serious, and the media are making an outcry," Mr. Mujahid said in a telephone interview with The Washington Times.
He said the regime in Kabul wasn't very "strict" in applying Islamic law and added that neither the foreign workers nor the 16 Afghan citizens arrested on the same charges would be sentenced to death, as required by law.
Noting that the detainees would be allowed legal representation, he added: "There will be some space in this regard. They have the right to find attorneys."
Asked whether the Americans would be able to go home soon, he answered: "Sure. Absolutely."
Although he didn't commit to a specific time frame, Mr. Mujahid said the Taliban's investigation of the case shouldn't take long and that, once it is completed, the Kabul government will provide consular access to the foreigners.
Parents of the two Americans — Dana Curry and Nicole Barnardhollon — yesterday applied for visas to Afghanistan at the Taliban Embassy in Islamabad, the capital of neighboring Pakistan.
The U.S. Embassy there said the father of one of the women and the mother of the other wanted to travel to Kabul to see their children, despite recent refusals by the Taliban to allow three diplomats to visit the detainees.
"It is a frustrating thing for them. You want action. You want to do something. But this may be a long wait for them," John Kincannon, a U.S. Embassy spokesman, was quoted as saying by wire service reports.
Commenting on Mr. Mujahid's charges that the case has been blown out of proportion, a State Department official asked: "If they think it has been overblown, why don't they allow access to our citizens?"
A U.S. official left Kabul on Tuesday, after a week of futile efforts to communicate effectively with the Taliban.
Officials in Kabul refused to extend the visa of the diplomat, David Donahue, consul general at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.
As a result, the United States accused the Taliban of violating international norms, but it acknowledged there was little it could do to help the detainees.
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," Philip Reeker, the State Department's deputy spokesman, said Monday.
But Mr. Mujahid insisted there were no violations of international law, because the Taliban had promised access to the workers after it completes its investigation.
He accused the United Nations and the United States of breaking international law by imposing sanctions on the Taliban.
"The U.N. Charter says that the United Nations deals with governments, not groups, and they are imposing sanctions on the Taliban Islamic movement, which is against the charter and international law," Mr. Mujahid said.
"They should respect international law first, and then demand it from others," he added.
Mr. Mujahid said, however, that the Taliban had no intention of straining its relationship with Washington over the detainees' case. "Relations with the United States won't deteriorate," he said.
Reminded that the United States has no diplomatic relations with the Taliban government, he said: "There are some kind of relations in one way or another. Our policy is to keep better relations with the United States."
Only three countries Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates recognized the Taliban as a government when it took power in 1996, but Saudi Arabia ordered its representatives out of Kabul in 1998.


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