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Bush implores Taliban to protect aid workers

WACO, Texas (CNN) -- The United States expects the Taliban to protect eight detained Western aid workers who were moved from the Afghan capital of Kabul to the southern stronghold of Kandahar, President Bush said Tuesday.

The aid workers -- four Germans, two Americans and two Australians -- have been detained by the Taliban for more than three months on charges of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

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The Taliban moved the workers from their Kabul detention area to Kandahar as they fled from the capital.

"We're obviously very concerned about their safety," Bush said in a brief stop in Waco. "Our military is very aware they are in that part of the world, and we are doing everything we can to use our intelligence-gathering capacity to make sure they stay out of harm's way.

"It is up to the Taliban, however, to protect them," Bush said. "We expect them to do so."

He added that the United States has "made it clear to the Taliban we expect them to be treated humanely. I hope they listen to our request."

Parents worry

In Islamabad, Pakistan, John Mercer, whose daughter, Heather, 24, is among those detained, said a reporter in Kabul told him that the detained workers were taken to Kandahar. The city in southern Afghanistan is a Taliban stronghold.

"I visited the Taliban embassy this morning and, while they did not come out and say 'yes they're in Kandahar,' they led me to believe that's where they were," Mercer told CNN.

Mercer is with Heather's mother, Deborah Oddy, and Nancy Cassell, mother of Dayna Curry, the other American aid worker. The three parents have not seen the detained aid workers since September 1 on a visit approved by the Taliban.

Mercer said it is possible the Taliban were holding the workers for "some sort of leverage" against the United States, which launched airstrikes on Taliban targets October 7 after the regime did not give up Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist organization. The Saudi recluse is the No. 1 suspect behind the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Mercer said he hopes the eight are not some sort of bargaining tool.

"Possibly the Taliban want to show they have a viable government in Kandahar and that they can continue their trial there," he said. "That may be a little bit far out there, but it's still a possibility."

Treated well

The eight aid workers have been held by Afghanistan's Taliban rulers since early August. They are members of Shelter Now International, a German relief agency that provided food and homes to the poor of Afghanistan.

There has been no word on the fate of 16 Afghan Muslims who worked for the aid agency and were arrested at the same time.

The last letter Mercer received from his daughter said she expressed "disappointment and dismay" that they had not heard from their Pakistan-based lawyer in three weeks.

Despite the absence of their lawyer, Mercer said the letter, which was dated November 4, indicated the workers were being treated well.

"They were preparing a nice meal for Dayna Curry, whose birthday was on the 4th (November)," Mercer said. "Over the past few days it had been relatively quiet in Kabul proper and I think emotionally they had all come to develop a sense of resignation -- that they were in for the long haul, that they were doing OK emotionally, but they certainly did want to get out of there as soon as they could."


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