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U.N. says prominent Afghan girls' education advocate arrested in Kabul

KABUL (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Tuesday that a prominent Afghan girls' education activist was arrested in Kabul this week and called on Taliban authorities to clarify the reason for his detention.

Spokespeople for the Taliban administration's information ministry and intelligence agency did not immediately respond to request for comment or confirm the detention.

"Matiullah Wesa, head of (Pen Path) and advocate for girls' education, was arrested in Kabul Monday," the U.N. Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement. "UNAMA calls on the de facto authorities to clarify his whereabouts, the reasons for his arrest and to ensure his access to legal representation and contact with family."

Wesa, who comes from the southern province of Kandahar, has for years advocated for girls' education, particularly in conservative rural areas, including during the tenure of the previous Western-backed foreign government when he said many girls living in the countryside were not reached by education services. His organisation, Pen Path, has held meetings with tribal elders, encouraged communities and authorities to open schools, and disbursed books and mobile libraries.

The Taliban administration has barred most girls from high school and women from universities saying there are perceived problems including around female Islamic dress. Officials have said they are undertaking work to reopen schools but have not given a time frame.

They say they respect women's rights in accordance with their interpretation of Islamic law and Afghan custom and that the improved security in the country since foreign forces left has made it safer for many young children to go to school.

Last year, Wesa told Reuters his work was free of political interference and impartial and his focus was on helping communities encourage girls' education.

(Reporting by Kabul Newsroom)