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Red Cross Officials Meet Aid Workers Detained by Taliban

International Red Cross officials met with eight imprisoned foreign aid workers on Sunday, the first visitors the Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban rulers have allowed since arresting the aid workers on charges of preaching Christianity. 

The aid workers - two Americans, four Germans and two Australians - were detained three weeks ago when the Taliban raided the offices of Shelter Now International, a German-based Christian aid organization. 

"They were happy to see us," Robert Monin, who led the Red Cross delegation in Kabul, said of the aid workers. 

After the visit, Monin told reporters that his delegation, which included two doctors and a nurse, was allowed to interview and give medical examinations to the six men and two women in private. The men were being held in one room and the women in another, he said without commenting on their condition. 

"We had very good cooperation from the Taliban authorities," Monin told reporters. 

Monin said that under Red Cross regulations, he cannot discuss the detained workers' health or their living conditions. 

Red Cross was told by Taliban authorities that they would be allowed to make more visits, Monin said. 

"It was just our first contact ... We will visit them again as soon as possible," he said. 

Monin said his delegation delivered messages to the detained workers and would take letters from them for their families on Monday. 

The eight workers were arrested, along with 16 Afghan staff of the organization. It's not known where the Afghan staff are being held and so far the Taliban have refused to let anyone to see them. 

The foreign aid workers have been held in a reform school for delinquent children. The reform school in the heart of the capital, Kabul, sits in the middle of a sprawling, heavily treed compound. 

Earlier the Taliban displayed compact discs, Bibles and other Christian material translated into local languages, which they say were confiscated from the offices of Shelter Now International, as well as the residences of the foreign workers. 

On Saturday the Taliban agreed to let Western diplomats visit their jailed nationals. They were expected to be issued their Afghan visas in neighboring Pakistan on Monday, and the U.S. Embassy there says they will immediately leave for Afghanistan. 

The Australian foreign ministry called the Taliban approval a "good sign." 

"We are hopeful. We believe that this is a good sign that they have agreed to issue visas. But based on past experience, we just have to wait and see," a spokesman for Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said Sunday on condition of anonymity. 

Relatives of the two jailed American women also have been granted permission to come to Afghanistan to visit their children, according to the Taliban. They too are expected to get their visas on Monday in Pakistan - one of only three countries to have diplomatic ties with the ruling Islamic militia here. 

The women, single and in their mid-20s, have been identified as Dana Curry and Heather Mercer. The other six jailed foreigners have been identified as Germans George Taubmann, Margrit Stebnar, Kati Jelinek and Silke Duerrkopf; and Australians Peter Bunch and Diana Thomas. 

After steadfastly refusing to allow anyone access to the detained aid workers, the Taliban relented, saying the first and "most important" part of their investigation into charges of proselytizing had been completed. 

It wasn't clear what further investigations were to be conducted, but the Taliban say they are looking at other international aid groups, including the United Nations, to see whether they have been preaching Christianity. 

They have denied the Taliban accusations, and the World Food Program - the only other aid group to be specifically named as suspicious by the Taliban - asked the Islamic militia to stop its "baseless" allegations. 

For a foreigner the punishment is jail and expulsion for preaching a religion other than Islam in Taliban-run Afghanistan. But for a Muslim Afghan the penalty for preaching or converting to a religion other than Islam is punishable by death.