Sat, Apr 07, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Ethiopia urged to release details on detainees in prisons


Ethiopia was under pressure on Thursday to release details of detainees from 19 countries held at secret prisons in the country, where US agents have carried out interrogations in the hunt for al-Qaeda in the Horn of Africa.

Canada, Eritrea and Sweden were lobbying for information about their citizens in Ethiopia, where human rights groups say hundreds of prisoners, including women and children, have been transferred secretly and illegally. An Associated Press investigation found that CIA and FBI agents have been interrogating the detainees.

Officials from Ethiopia, which has a troubling human rights record, were not immediately available for comment, but in the past have refused to acknowledge the existence of the prisons.

Canadian Foreign Affairs spokesman Rejean Beaulieu said of Canadian citizen Bashir Makhtal: "We know that he is in Ethiopia."

"We've been making, and continue to make representations both here in Ottawa and in Ethiopia to get access to him," he said.

Some detainees were swept up by Ethiopian troops that drove a radical Islamist government out of Somalia late last year, Kenyan officials and police said.

Others have been deported from Kenya, where many Somalis have fled the continuing violence in their homeland, they said.

The detainees include at least one US citizen while others are from Canada, Sweden and France, a list compiled by a Kenyan Muslim rights group and flight manifests showed. They also included citizens from Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Rwanda, Tunisia and Morocco.

Eritrea has asked Kenyan authorities for details on three of its citizens, handed over to Somalia on Jan. 20 and who human rights groups say are in Ethiopia.

"At this juncture, the government of Eritrea again calls on the Kenyan authorities to get the three Eritrean citizens released at the earliest and repatriate them to their country," a statement by Eritrea's Information Ministry said.

"Furthermore, it reminds the Kenyan authorities that the responsibility for the lives of the Eritrean citizens rests on them," it said.

Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said the government had no comment to make until it received an official communication from the Eritrean government.

Swedish Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nina Ersman said they had managed to gain access to Swedish nationals still being detained, including two Swedish citizens and one who holds a permanent residence permit.

"We have visited them, but not in recent days," she said, although she did not know the dates of the visit.

Jonathan Hafetz, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law who has been assisting the family of detained US citizen Amir Mohamed Meshal, 24, said on Thursday he had still not spoken to him.

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