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Kenya defends prisoner transfers

Thu., March 15, 2007

NAIROBI, Kenya – Kenyan authorities on Wednesday defended the secret transfers of dozens of prisoners to war-torn Somalia and rejected allegations that its ally the United States was directing its actions. The U.S. government refused to confirm or deny allegations that it played a significant behind-the-scenes role.

A spokesman for Kenya’s police, who’d detained at least 150 people who were caught fleeing December’s U.S.-backed war against Islamist militias in Somalia, said top levels of government in Kenya and Somalia had directed the transfers of at least 80 of the prisoners.

The spokesman, Gideon Kibunja, said U.S. law enforcement agents had provided “consultations” to Kenyan authorities, who held and interrogated the prisoners. The countries routinely cooperate on terrorism cases in Kenya, where alleged al-Qaida operatives bombed the U.S. Embassy in 1998.

“Kenya is an independent state,” Kibunja said. “We can consult with friends. We cannot take orders.”

Human rights groups in Nairobi said detainees had reported that U.S. law-enforcement officials had questioned them. In Washington, FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said the agency “does not confirm or deny if an investigation is taking place.” Kolko added: “We have no comment on this issue.” The State Department also declined Wednesday to confirm or deny allegations of an American role in the questioning or the transfers.

The transfers of prisoners – on three middle-of-the-night charter flights in January and February – provoked concern among Muslim groups and human rights activists in Kenya, who successfully sued for the release of the records. The groups say the Kenyan authorities have provided no information on the detainees’ whereabouts to their families and that Somalia’s weak transitional government – the target of near-daily insurgent attacks – is unable to guarantee the prisoners’ safety.

Somali government officials have acknowledged holding prisoners but say they’re being treated humanely. However, none of the prisoners are in contact with their families.


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