ISTANBUL — Two Western citizens and their Afghan colleagues working for the United Nations refugee agency are being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan, the U.N. announced in a brief statement Friday.
The team members were on assignment with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and were detained in Kabul in recent days. “We are doing our utmost to resolve the situation, in coordination with others. We will make no further comment given the nature of the situation,” the U.N. statement said.
Andrew North, a British citizen and former BBC reporter, was one of those detained for unclear reasons. He was in Afghanistan to investigate the cases of Afghans who had been internally displaced, much as he had during a previous trip in December. The Afghans involved were working as a driver and an interpreter.
The detention of Western citizens could complicate the Taliban’s attempts to seek legitimacy with countries that have maintained crippling economic sanctions since the former government collapsed.
The Taliban did not respond to a request for comment.
The news of their detention was first posted by the former vice president of Afghanistan, Amrullah Saleh Friday, who said the Taliban was holding nine citizens of Western countries, among them Mr. North and Peter Jouvenal, a former journalist and businessman who ran a guesthouse, the Gandamack Lodge, in Kabul for many years. The two were detained in unrelated incidents.
Mr. Jouvenal, a dual British-German citizen, is among seven Western nationals, including one American and six British citizens, who were detained on various occasions at the end of last year. The Taliban has not publicly confirmed their detention or announced any charges against them, but British officials were given access to some of those being held last week.
Friends of Mr. Jouvenal issued a statement on Friday expressing deep concern for his safety. Mr. Jouvenal, who is a Muslim and is married to an Afghan, has been held in a jail of the Taliban’s intelligence arm in Kabul since being detained in early December, his friends say. According to one of his friends, David Loyn, a former BBC reporter, he was visited by a British official last week.
“He is being held without charge, and with no freedom to contact his family or lawyers,” the statement said.
“Peter’s family and friends believe that he may have been detained in error, as he was in Afghanistan to discuss investments in Afghanistan’s mining industry as well as conducting family business. Before his arrest he was working openly and had frequent meetings with senior Taliban officials.”
President Biden raised the case also of Mark R. Frerechs, a United States Navy veteran who was working as a contractor in Afghanistan when he was detained by the Haqqani Network of the Taliban two years ago.