The Taliban have detained two foreign journalists on assignment with the UN refugee agency and a number of its Afghan staff working in the country’s capital, UNHCR said on Friday.

The development in Kabul comes as President Joe Biden was expected to issue an executive order that would allow US financial institutions to facilitate access to $3.5 billion of assets for Afghan aid.

Two journalists on assignment with UNHCR and Afghan nationals working with them have been detained in Kabul, the refugee agency tweeted. “We are doing our utmost to resolve the situation, in coordination with others.”

The Geneva-based organisation refused to comment further. The Taliban so far have not replied to queries for information about the detained.

One of the detained is Andrew North, a former BBC journalist who has worked extensively in Afgha­nistan. His wife, Natalia Antelava issued a plea on Twitter for his release.

Andrew was in Kabul working for the UNHCR @Refugees trying to help the people of Afghanistan, Antel­ava said. “We are extremely concerned for his safety & call on anyone with influence to help secure his release.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the detentions and called for the immediate release of the journalists.

The Taliban must immediately release Andrew North and all other journalists held for their work, and cease harassing and detaining members of the press, the CPJ statement said, noting they were detained on Tuesday.

Closed-door talks

In Geneva, Switzerland has raised concerns about human rights in Afghanistan, including about girls’ education, in a meeting with the Taliban, a government spoke­sman said on Friday, as the new rulers in Kabul wrapped up a week of talks in Geneva.

The trip is seen as a key step in Taliban efforts to boost outreach efforts as they seek to persuade foreign powers to recognise them and restore the aid money that has been cut off in protest against their takeover in August.

The delegation met Swiss officials as well as the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups in the talks that touched on aid needs, security concerns and health care, according to participants who attended the closed-door talks.

In an emailed response to questions, foreign ministry spokesperson Paola Ceresetti said Switzerland had raised the issue of abductions and reprisals including the targeting of reporters, without specifically discussing the detention of two journalists.

Berne had also raised the “systematic exclusion” of girls and women from education, politics, society and public life and said it expected girls to be back in school next month, she said.

A handful of female activists gathered outside the Taliban delegation’s hotel earlier this week while a few people protested outside the UN headquarters in Geneva on Friday.

Ceresetti denied that the talks amounted to official recognition of the Taliban and stressed that it was important to maintain dialogue. “We talk to everyone,” she said.


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