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Red Cross In Afghanistan Visits Captives Held By Taliban

KABUL (Reuters) -- The Red Cross said today it had visited three Afghans detained by the Taliban, the first time during the eight-year war the militants had allowed the Geneva-based organization access to prisoners they are holding.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement it had visited three members of the Afghan security forces in northwest Badghis, a mainly Pashtun province and one of the most dangerous in the largely stable north.

"This is the first time since the beginning of the current conflict that the ICRC has visited people detained by the armed opposition," Reto Stocker, head of the ICRC's delegation in Kabul said in the statement.

The Geneva conventions require warring countries to allow the ICRC access to prisoners.

A spokesman for the ICRC in Geneva would not disclose any information about the detainees' condition and could not confirm whether they were Afghan policemen or soldiers, or say when they were captured by the Taliban.

"In Afghanistan for years we have been in touch and engaging in discussions and dialogue with Taliban because they are simply party to the conflict," said Simon Schorno, a spokesman for the ICRC in Geneva.

"One of the reasons why we speak to them is, first and foremost, to raise humanitarian issues and concerns and secondly to make sure our presence is acceptable to all factions involved," Schorno added.

Western troops and Afghan authorities allow the Red Cross to visit 136 detention facilities in Afghanistan.

The ICRC has registered more than 16,000 detainees since the war began in late 2001, when the Taliban were overthrown by U.S.-backed Afghan forces.

Schorno said the ICRC, which has worked in Afghanistan since 1979, intended to make similar visits again in Afghanistan with the cooperation of the Taliban to check on their other detainees.

All information gathered from the detainees is strictly confidential, in line with the ICRC's status as a neutral and independent organization, and only disclosed to the parties involved in the detention, he said.