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East African Countries Agree on Tighter Anti-Terror Measures - 2004-04-28

The United States says an East Africa anti-terrorism conference, held late last week in Uganda, has produced a broad agreement to enhance technology to better track the movements of terror suspects in the region.

The three-day, U.S-sponsored anti-terrorism conference in Kampala, Uganda, drew government and security officials from the Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Tanzania.

A spokesman for the U.S, Embassy in Kampala, Mark Schlachter, says one of the goals of the conference was to persuade countries in the region to begin implementing a new, computer-based program designed to improve border, aviation, and airport security.

"One of the elements of the counter-terrorism initiative is something called TIP, which stands for Terrorism Interdiction Program," he said. "And this is a computer-based database that will allow individual countries to screen individuals entering the country, and this is an area in which all of the countries have expressed interest."

Just as the United States now requires most visitors to be fingerprinted and photographed before entering the country, Mr. Schlachter says countries in East Africa participating in the Terrorism Interdiction Program could eventually implement similar biometric techniques to identify terror suspects.

"The next step we are hoping is that there will be increased integration among the countries in East Africa, to share that data, to share systems that can help the entire region more effectively control the flow of these suspected individuals," he said.

The United States remains deeply concerned about security in East Africa because key al-Qaida operatives, who are believed to have planned the deadly 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, have never been caught. The operatives are believed to be still in the region, moving across porous borders to hide, recruit and plan future attacks.

Uganda's Internal Affairs Ministry spokesman, Steven Kagoda, says his country supports any initiative that could boost regional security.

"From a security point of view, it is always important that we get to know who is coming into the country," he said. "Terrorism is not restricted to one particular country. The world has become one global village, and if we look at what is happening all over the world, I think we need to really act together."

But international human rights groups have voiced concern that some African governments are using tactics designed to fight terror to also silence domestic opponents and critics.

Two weeks ago, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said it had documented numerous cases where Ugandan security services used the term anti-terrorism procedures to justify the torture and harassment of political opponents. The Ugandan government denies the charge.