Taliban rough up aid officials of European Commission

September 29,1997: The European Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs Emma Bonino was arrested and then released while her officials were beaten up by the Taliban fighters during their visit to a Kabul hospital on Monday.

The EC arrived in Kabul Monday morning along with18 other members of her delegation and journalists. Ms Bonino said theTaliban hit the members of her delegation with Klashnikov assault rifles and she was threatened by a Taliban fighter armed with a Klashnikov. She said the members of her group were sacred but no one was seriously hurt.

The group was arrested and detained at a police station in Central Kabul for taking pictures of women at a local hospital. Taliban who control Kabul have strict rules against taking pictures of any one. A Taliban security official said video cameras, tap recorders and other equipment were confiscated.

After being held for about three hours the group was released by the Taliban authorities. Ms Bonino accused the Taliban of inflicting a reign of terror on her group and the people of Afghanistan. After the group was released Taliban officials apologised to Ms Bonino.The Commissioner was in Kabul to assess the European Unionís programme in Afghanistan. The EU is the largest single donor of emergency aid to Afghanistan with donations of about 40 million dollars a year.

There has been limited reaction from the EUC. VOAsaid EU officials in Brussels refused all official comments on incident until after she was released and then tried to play it down. However they did admit that Commissionís President had contact with the Luxembourg Government which holds the presidency of the European Unionís Council of Ministers.He asked the Luxembourg to being preparations for a diplomatic initiativein case the group was detained for any length of time.

EU spokesman welcomed the release of the group.He said the Commissioner Bonino mission was purely a humanitarian one and there was no justification for the way in which she and her party have been treated.
Commissioner Bonino said members of the party have been beaten on their backs with guns. She said it was very tense and claimed the incident demonstrated how people live in Afghanistan.

AFP adds: Emma Bonino returned to Islamabad late Monday from Kabul where she and her entourage were detained by Taliban.Bonino did not speak to journalists present at Islamabad airport. Flanked by EU officials, she was taken to a waiting car which drove her to her hotel in Islamabad, witnesses said.

Members of her delegation also returned with Bonino who had gone to Kabul on Sunday on a two-day trip to assess the political and aid set up in the Afghan capital.

The journalists arrested with her included a CNN team led by Christiane Amapour, a French television crew from Canal Plus,a British journalist and two Italian photographers.

The head o the Talibanís detection section, Haji Habibullah said the group had engaged in filming and photographing women at a hospital. This is just to convey to them that they cannot break the law, he said, adding the male director of the hospital had raised the alarm.

However, Habibullah appeared unconcerned of the identity of his prisoner and said he was proud of his catch. I myself brought them in my pick-up he boasted, they were taking pictures of women. In areas under Taliban control both the photography and filming of living creaturesis strictly banned.

According to several aid worker, the incident escalated when the CNN crew attempted to pass off a blank video cassette to angered officials at the hospital following complaints over the open use of their cameras.
Bonino is the most senior foreign official to visit Kabul since it fell to the Taliban one year ago.

Sources in the delegation told AFP Sunday the tripwas aimed at raising concerns over the Talibaní strict restrictions on women who have been banned from working and education and forced to weara tent-like cape covering the entire body.

According to aid workers, women once made up 40 percent of Kabulís workforce and without pay have been reduced to begging.

The Muslim, September 30,1997

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