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Red Cross Begins Visiting Iraqi POWs - 2003-03-31


The International Committee of the Red Cross said it has begun visiting Iraqi prisoners of war captured by the coalition forces. Red Cross officials say about 3,000 Iraqi POWs are being held in a camp near the southern Iraqi town of Umm Qasr.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said the commander of the camp is allowing the ICRC delegates full access to the Iraqi prisoners. The Red Cross team consists of 15 people, including a doctor and six interpreters.

The head of ICRC Operations in the Middle East and North Africa, Balthasar Staehelin, said delegates already have registered about 100 POWs and that process will continue every day until all the prisoners names and vital information is recorded.

He said the delegates will hold group and private interviews with the POWs. The Iraqi soldiers will be given medical examinations and efforts will be made to re-establish family links between the POWs and their relatives. Mr. Staehelin said the agency will visit the POWs on a regular basis.

"The International Committee of the Red Cross is pleased to have been able to start this first visit and is committed to visit all prisoners of war on all sides wherever they are," Mr. Staehelin said.

Mr. Staehelin said the Iraqis have not revealed how many coalition POWs they are holding, nor how many may have been killed. But he said he is confident that the Red Cross will receive permission to visit U.S. and British prisoners of war.

"We have had an indication, a clear indication that the ICRC will be granted access and indeed two ministers of the Iraqi government have publicly stated that they will respect the third Geneva Convention. So, of course, we hope that these visits can take place very rapidly, as soon as possible. For the time being there is no date set," he said.

The Red Cross official said the aim of the visits to POWs is to monitor their treatment and conditions of detention. And to make sure they are granted all the rights due prisoners under Geneva Conventions.

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