Karzai Tells Britain to Hand Over Prisoners

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KABUL, Afghanistan -- President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan demanded Saturday that Britain hand over within two weeks up to 90 Afghan detainees being held at a British base in the south, saying the detention violates Afghan law and is a breach of sovereignty.

Mr. Karzai's national security adviser, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, spoke to the British Embassy in Kabul and asked that the detainees, whom Britain suspects are insurgents, to be handed over by June 22, according to a statement by a spokesman for Mr. Karzai, Aimal Faizi.

"Continuing the detention of Afghan nationals by British forces will be a violation of our national sovereignty and our country's laws," Mr. Faizi said.

The issue of prisoner transfers is an irritant in the relationship between Mr. Karzai and his Western backers, and has become more pronounced as the NATO-led international force prepares to pull out most of its troops by the end of next year.

Last month, a British legal firm said the detention of up to 90 Afghans for as long as 14 months at British-controlled Camp Bastion in Helmand Province was in breach of British and international law and demanded that they be released or charged.

The British government, in denying any violations, has said the number of detainees at Camp Bastion is higher than normal because of problems in handing them over to the Afghans, and has also cited concerns about Afghanistan's treatment of its detainees.

On Saturday, British officials in London had no immediate comment on Mr. Karzai's demand.

Foreign rights groups have accused Afghanistan of using torture and abuse, while Kabul says Western nations rely on questionable international legal principles to detain Afghans without giving them access to Afghanistan's courts.

Numerous countries fighting in the American-led war in Afghanistan continue to hold Afghan detainees.

In November, Defense Secretary Philip Hammond of Britain imposed a ban on transferring suspects to Afghan control, citing concerns over abusive treatment. Last month, Australia, which operates a force in the southern province of Uruzgan, announced that it was suspending transfers of prisoners to an Afghan facility for the same reasons.

Camp Bastion houses around 30,000 soldiers and civilians and is the largest British military base in Afghanistan.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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