via BBC News Service
The Taleban authorities in Afghanistan have ordered an American aid worker, Mary MacMakin, to leave the country within 24 hours. Ms MacMakin is in her seventies and has spent many years working in Afghanistan. She was arrested over the weekend and kept in a juvenile detention centre but has now been released.
The Taleban have accused her of spying and carrying out anti-government propaganda, and say they have recovered documents from their office to back up their claim. Speaking after her release, she said: "I am just waiting for my staff to say goodbye." "We understand that the reason they are being held is because the women were not behaving in an 'Islamic' way," a UN official told the French news agency AFP.
Her arrest came shortly before a clampdown on local women working for aid agencies in Kabul. Six of Ms MacMakin's colleagues - all women - who were arrested along with her are also due to be released. Ms MacMakin runs a small agency which helps widows and poor children and has been living in Afghanistan, on and off, since the 1950s.
The Taleban have ordered aid agencies and the United Nations to dismiss all Afghan women staff. The UN co-ordinator for humanitarian relief in Afghanistan, Eric de Mul, is due to fly to Kandahar on Wednesday to meet senior Taleban officials over the issue.
Although the Taleban do not allow women to work outside the home except in the health sector, some aid agencies were given special permission to employ local women. It is still not clear whether the Taleban have overturned all these exemptions, whether health workers are still allowed to work and whether the dismissal order applies only to Kabul or to the whole country. If implemented in full it would affect the lives of tens of thousands of people.
There are also clinics and health education programmes. At the moment, agencies are stressing they do not want confrontation with the authorities and are still hopeful of a positive resolution. The UN co-ordinator for humanitarian relief in Afghanistan, Eric de Mul, is due to fly to Kandahar on Wednesday to meet senior Taleban officials over the issue.
The BBC's Kabul correspondent, Kate Clark, says if the situation is not resolved, it could have serious consequences for many needy Afghans. Several agencies in Afghanistan have already suspended their programmes involving women following the recent move. Others say they will carry on working until they get further clarification from the Taleban about the dismissal order.
Programmes which target women and many which target children have to have Afghan female staff. These include feeding malnourished children and giving food aid to widows. There are also clinics and health education programmes. At the moment, agencies are stressing they do not want confrontation with the authorities and are still hopeful of a positive resolution.