Red Cross hopes for Syria detainee access in weeks

AP News
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Posted: Aug 19, 2011 2:39 PM
Red Cross hopes for Syria detainee access in weeks

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday it was optimistic about receiving permission to visit prisons in Syria "within weeks," and will send additional medical staff to the country to examine injured detainees if necessary.

During a visit to Syria in late June, ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger secured permission in principle for the neutral humanitarian organization to access all detainee sites for the first time, said a Red Cross spokesman in Geneva.

"The improvement in the dialogue we have with the authorities in the last days shows us that we may have access soon," said spokesman Christian Cardon.

Pressed on how long it might take to get final permission, he added: "We have good hope that this will happen within weeks."

The Geneva-based organization visits detainees around the world, specializing in monitoring the welfare of prisoners of war and others held in conflict-like situations. In return for access to sites such as the U.S detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the ICRC pledges to keep its findings and discussions with authorities confidential.

A report published Thursday by the U.N. human rights office alleged that prisoners detained during the anti-government protests in Syria had been tortured, even killed.

Cardon declined to speculate on the number of people who had been detained by security forces over the protests or the conditions they were held in.

But he said "obviously we want to visit all the detainees arrested in connection with the recent violence."

The ICRC currently has a dozen foreign staff in Syria.

"We are ready to send medical specialists if needs be," said Cardon.

In addition to seeking access to prisons, the Red Cross has already been granted permission to visit hospitals in Syria.