mental health situation of eight Western aid workers and their 16 Afghan co workers detained in Afghanistan on charges of converting Moslems to Christianity.

The father of one of the detainees said he is worried about the apparent deteriorating health of his 24-year old daughter.  John Mercer,  the father of American prisoner Heather Mercer,  told newsmen that "63 days of detention has taken an emotional toll" on her.

He stressed that she can "hear the fighting around Kabul," the Afghan Capital,  from her prison . Apparently encouraged by reports that the United States may launch a military assault against the ruling Taliban,  rebels opposing the regime have  launched a fresh offensive.


Mercer spoke in Pakistan’s Capital Islamabad,  as reports emerged that his 24-year old daughter fell ill.  "I asked the Chief Justice if she could see a doctor,  and that request was granted," said Pakistani lawyer Atif Ali Khan, who defends the aid workers. He did not specify the nature of the illness. 

The latest development however underscored earlier reports about health problems of Heather Mercer and her co-workers including 29-year old American Dayna Curry as well as Germans George Taubmann, Margrit Stebnar, Kati Jelinek and Silke Duerrkopf,  Australians Peter Bunch and Diana Thomas, and 16 Afghan colleagues.


On Sunday,  September 30,  their trial, already postponed for three weeks, was briefly delayed over health concerns of at least one of the aid workers. One of the defendants, German Silke Duerrkopf, at first didn’t show up to Sunday’s proceedings because she reportedly said she felt ill. 

She arrived later,  but only after the court sent for her at a Kabul detention center.  Reporters on the scene said Duerrkopf was "looking pale."  Lawyer Atif Ali Khan suggested Thursday he hoped that the situation of clients will improve with visits from relatives and journalists. 


He said that the Chief Justice has given permission for them to see the aid workers "whenever they want."  However the parents of Heather Mercer said they were still awaiting a visa from the Embassy in neighbouring Pakistan,  the only country to maintain diplomatic relations with the Taliban regime.

"Tomorrow we will again go to the Taliban Embassy to receive a visa,  and than decide what to do," said Mercer,  who was forced to leave Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks against the United States last month.

The evangelical Antioch Community Church in Waco Texas,  the home church of the two American prisoners,  has set up a 24-hour prayer service during their detention.

Relatives of the detainees have urged United States President George W. Bush to wait with any military offensive against Afghanistan till they are released.


Taliban officials have said that the possible attacks and the events of September 11 will have "no effect on the trial." However under the strict interpretation of Islamic law in Afghanistan,  the aid workers can still face the death penalty. 

Some analysts still believe that this punishment only apply to the 16 Afghan Christians,  who are still awaiting their trial,  while their Western colleagues may be released.  All were working for Shelter Now,  a humanitarian aid organization,  which has now difficulties to continue its work under tens of thousands of nearly starving  refugees and street kids.

On Thursday President Bush announced a 320-million dollar aid package for the refugees of Afghanistan,  saying that the war on terror was not against the "poor souls" of this war ravaged nation.


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