December 9, 2005

ICRC in talks with US over detainee access

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red
Cross (ICRC) is in "intense dialogue" with U.S. authorities to
gain access to all detainees held in its so-called war on
terrorism, its president said on Friday.

Jakob Kellenberger said that the issue of people held in
secret locations remained a "major concern," but it could only
determine their legal status under the Geneva Conventions once
it had visited them.

"We are already visiting very many detainees under U.S.
authorities in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan ... We continue
to be in an intense dialogue with them with the aim of getting
access to all people detained in the framework of the so-called
war on terror," Kellenberger told an annual news conference.

Human rights groups accuse the CIA of running secret
prisons in eastern Europe and covertly transporting detainees
in its war against terrorism. They say incommunicado detention
often leads to torture.

John Bellinger, the U.S. State Department's legal adviser,
acknowledged to reporters in Geneva on Thursday that the ICRC
does not have access to all detainees held by U.S. forces, but
refused to discuss alleged secret detention centers.

The ICRC has been pressing the administration of U.S.
President George W. Bush for two years for information about
and access to what the agency calls "an unknown number of
people captured as part of the so-called global war on terror
and held in undisclosed locations."

"We have said that undisclosed detention is a major concern
for us," Kellenberger said.


Kellenberger was launching the ICRC's appeal for more than
1 billion Swiss francs for its work in 80 countries next year,
with Sudan still its largest aid operation.

Its field budget is projected to be 9.2 percent higher than
under the previous annual appeal due to fresh needs, including
helping people left homeless by Pakistan's devastating
earthquake to survive winter.

"Two operations stand out by their volume very clearly --
Sudan, which is mainly Darfur, and Pakistan," Kellenberger

The ICRC is seeking 127.6 million Swiss francs for Sudan,
including the south which is merging from a 21-year civil war
ended by a peace accord in January.

In the Darfur region, where it deploys some 100 expatriates
and up to 800 nationals, it is striving to help people who have
not fled to refugee camps to stay self-sufficient.

In all, the neutral humanitarian agency deploys 12,000
people to provide food, medicine, water and sanitation to those
caught up in armed conflicts and visits more than 500,000
detainees worldwide each year.

The ICRC visited more than 11,000 prisoners held by
American, British and Iraqi Kurdish authorities in the north
between May and September. But the lack of security prevents
the ICRC from doing more in Iraq, where one of its local
drivers was kidnapped and killed last January.

Its budget for Iraq, 38.3 million Swiss francs, is some 22
percent less than that for this year, due to constraints
imposed by insecurity, according to Kellenberger.

"But we will have the same focus as this year -- detention
and exchange of messages," Kellenberger said.