Parents beg Afghans to protect jailed aid workers

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Parents beg Afghans to protect jailed aid workers

By Kathy Gannon The Associated Press September 18th, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan --

The father of an American aid worker jailed in Afghanistan on charges of preaching Christianity said he pleaded Monday with the countryís Taliban rulers to let him take his daughterís place.

"I offered to go in place of my daughter," said John Mercer, squeezing his eyes closed to stop his tears. His head bowed, his voice shaking, Mercer said "it was a very serious offer. I would do it."

Mercer said he met Taliban authorities at the Afghan embassy in Islamabad and that they did not respond to his request to take the place of his 24-year-old daughter, Heather.

Group plea: He was joined at a news conference in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, by Heatherís mother, Deborah Oddy; Oddyís husband, Delmer; and Nancy Cassell, the mother of Dayna Curry, 29, the other American woman jailed in Afghanistan.

They left Afghanistan on Thursday after the deadly terrorist attacks in the United States made it too risky to stay in the country, which has refused to hand over the prime suspect, Osama bin Laden and is a possible target of retaliatory U.S. strikes. All foreign aid workers left over the weekend.

"I donít know if you have a child, but you can imagine what it must be like for a mother to leave her daughter in a situation like this. I canít describe it. Itís a heartbreak," said Cassell, a teacher from Thompsonís Station, Tenn.

Left behind: Mercer and Cassell had been in Afghanistan for more than two weeks when they left. Deborah Oddy had arrived Sept. 11, the day of the attacks, and saw her daughter, Heather, that evening. That was the last visit any of them had with their children.

Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry were arrested in early August along with six other foreign aid workers of the Christian-based Shelter Now International aid group on charges of preaching Christianity in this devoutly Muslim nation. The six other jailed aid workers are German and Australian.

They have been held in a reform school in the center of Kabul by Taliban guards armed with Kalashnikov rifles.

Their trial began about three weeks ago, but only last week were they able to appear in court or hear the charges before them. The family hired a Pakistani lawyer before leaving Afghanistan, but the lawyer, who is versed in Islamic law, has been unable to get an Afghan visa to go to Kabul to meet with his clients.

Itís not clear when the trial will resume.

-- PHO (owennos@bigfoot.com), September 18, 2001


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