Ethiopia denies torturing suspects

October 4, 2008 12:00 am

, ADDIS ABABA, October 4 – Ethiopia on Saturday denied claims by Human Rights Watch that it tortured terror suspects held in prisons since 2006 when Addis Ababa dispatched troops to neighbouring Somalia to quell Islamist rebels.

The New York-based rights watchdog said Wednesday that at least 90 people were rendered from Kenya to Somalia and then to Ethiopia in the aftermath of Ethiopia’s 2006 invasion of Somalia.

Several detainees were housed in solitary cells with their hands cuffed in painful positions behind their backs and their feet tied, it said in a report. It added that many were held incommunicado and without charge.

"Despite HRW’s claims none of these people has been maltreated," Ethiopia’s foreign ministry said in a statement. "In fact many of the details claimed by HRW are unsubstantiated and most are simply untrue."

The ministry added that the suspects were not "arbitrarily" arrested, but "were found in a theatre of war or trying to cross the Somali-Kenya border."

"There were strong grounds for suspicion of terrorist involvement. Under the circumstances of the time, it would have been irresponsible to leave them at large," it said, adding that Mogadishu lacked secure and acceptable prisons.

"Ethiopia has not hidden the identity, fate or whereabouts of anyone brought from Somalia for investigation," it said.

But the rights group said that at least 10 suspects are still languishing in Ethiopian jails some 15 to 21 months after they were first arrested and that the whereabouts of 22 others remained unknown.

It also said US intelligence agencies had questioned the suspects during their captivity in Ethiopia.

Eight Kenyans among dozens who had been rendered to Ethiopia returned home overnight, government spokesman Alfred Mutua said Saturday, adding that the suspects had initially denied being Kenyan.

"The government never deported any known Kenyans from this country," Mutua said in a statement.



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