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EU Ministers Discuss Anti-Terrorism Effort with Ashcroft - 2002-09-14

European Union justice and interior ministers, meeting in Copenhagen, have expressed support for a program to forcibly repatriate illegal immigrants and asylum seekers whose applications have been denied. The ministers also met with U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to discuss ways of improving trans-Atlantic cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

With anti-immigrant sentiment on the rise in Europe, the EU ministers took up the delicate issue of forcing unwanted migrants to return to their homelands. French Justice Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters that an EU-funded forced repatriation program would encourage other illegal migrants and failed asylum seekers to return home voluntarily.

Among those slated for repatriation are an estimated 100,000 Afghans, whose return is considered safe, now that the Taleban has been routed. Most of them are in Germany, Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands. Denmark has suggested organizing joint flights to transport Afghans back home.

The ministers also discussed ways of improving reception facilities for returning Afghans, and how to transport them back to their villages, once they have arrived in the capital, Kabul.

The EU's justice and home affairs commissioner, Antonio Vittorino, called the repatriation program a top priority and promised to have an action plan for repatriation ready by next month.

Saturday, the ministers were joined by their U.S. counterpart, Attorney General John Ashcroft, for a look at ways of working more closely in the fight against crime and terrorism. But the use of the death penalty in the United States remains an obstacle to any accord.

The EU ministers unanimously agreed Friday not to waver in their refusal to extradite terrorism suspects who might face capital punishment in the United States.

Mr. Ashcroft also faces stiff opposition to a deal on information-sharing between U.S. and European police agencies. Last month, Germany said it would not even provide information about Zaccarias Moussaoui, an accused co-conspirator in the September 11 terrorist attacks, unless U.S. authorities guaranteed that the information would not be used in any attempt to sentence the defendant to death.

U.S. officials have said they would not be able to give a blanket guarantee on the death penalty, but would be willing to look at each case individually. Diplomats on both sides say there has been progress in preliminary negotiations on exchanging data on suspects, but say the death penalty remains non-negotiable.