Taliban close Italian hospital in Kabul, beat staff and take away three employees

Reuters, May 18, 2001

KABUL, May 18 (Reuters) - An Italian-funded hospital treating war victims in Afghanistan has closed indefinitely after a raid by the Taliban religious police who beat staff and took away three local employees, hospital personnel said on Friday.

"The hospital is closed after the incident. We have discharged all of the patients and don't know when it will be reopened," a hospital guard told Reuters.

Other employees said armed members of the religious police forced their way into the hospital during lunch on Thursday and beat staff members after accusing them of dining with women.

The dining hall of the new hospital was segregated by a curtain and men and women were not mixed, they said.

The 120-bed surgical hospital, called Emergency, was opened this year to treat victims of 21 years of war in Afghanistan.

There was no immediate comment from the religious police, and foreign employees of the hospital declined to talk to reporters.

Women in Taliban-controlled areas -- most of the country -- are banned from almost all education and work outside the home and they are generally forbidden to mix with men.

The religious police, formally The Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, act directly under the order of the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. They are a powerful organ for enforcing the Taliban's austere version of Islam.

In 1997, they raided the office of a French non-governmental organisation, arresting foreign and local staff for dining and watching TV with local women employees.

Those arrested were released after months in jail and some were given lashings.

Foreign-funded organisations, from the United Nations and private groups, provide most of the basic social services in Afghanistan.

However, the Taliban have frequently had conflicts with them, especially over the movement's restrictions on women.

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