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Eastern Europe: EU, Rights Groups To Investigate Reports Of Secret CIA Prisons

Prisoners released by the U.S. in Afghanistan (epa) Tensions are rising over the allegations that the U.S. Central Inteligence Agency (CIA) has set up secret jails in Eastern Europe to interrogate Al-Qaeda suspects. Reports have triggered a flurry of denials from governments in the region and prompted European Union officials to investigate. The human-rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) says its research and circumstantial evidence suggest Poland and Romania allowed their territory to be used by the CIA.

Prague, 4 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Romania and Poland, the two countries alleged to have allowed the CIA to set detention centers on their territory, have issued strong denials.

Polish Defense Ministry spokesman Leszek Laszczak said CIA installations did not exist in the country. "At military installations on Poland's territory there were no persons detained on suspicions of terrorist activity, neither upon agreements with the U.S. government nor with any other American organizations," he said.

The same reaction came from Romania. Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu said there were no CIA bases in Romania. The spokesman for the Romanian Intelligence Service, Marius Bercaru, said he had no information about their existence. "The Romanian Intelligence Service does not have information that can certify the existence of such detention centers in our country," he said.

The Romanian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying it was "not aware that such a detention center…existed" and invited journalists to visit an alleged facility. Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia also issued denials, as did Georgia and Armenia.

Boglar Laszlo, a spokesman for Hungary's prime minister, told AP that an official report will be drawn up following consultations with air-transportation officials and others "so we can bring this matter to a close."

Czech Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan said his country and a further 10 unnamed countries had rejected a U.S. request to take prisoners being held at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Meanwhile, the Eeurpean Union says it is concerned. Friso Roscam Abbing, a justice and home affairs spokesman for the European Commission, said experts will discreetly contact member-state governments to "examine" the accuracy of the reports.

"We need to know exactly what is happening and what we're talking about, and I pledge my full transparency [and] coming back to you as soon as we know more of this information to inform you of that and any possible -- if necessary -- steps the European Commission would need to take," Roscam Abbing said.

Roscam Abbing said the commission will request answers from all 25 member governments and from EU candidates Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Turkey. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department says it has not received a request from the EU to cooperate with any investigation.

The comments by HRW yesterday have raised the political temperature. Tom Malinowski, the group’s Washington director, said circumstantial evidence strongly points to Poland and Romania as being involved.

A senior military analyst with the organization, Marc Garlasco, told RFE/RL about the way HRW has gathered its information. "It's a combination of that information that we're gleaning from the flight logs, also speaking with people who have been released from Afghanistan -- as you know hundreds of people have been released -- and you can talk to folks and find that they have been picked up on a certain date and were moved, for example, from Afghanistan to Jordan and by checking dates we can correspond that with some of the flight logs," he said.

He noted that two destinations of the flights in particular stood out as likely sites of any secret CIA detention centers: Szymany Airport in Poland, which is near the headquarters of Poland's intelligence service, and Mihail Kogalniceanu military airfield in Romania.

The scandal, which has now become an international one, started when "The Washington Post" reported on 2 November that the CIA is running a worldwide network of prisons for suspected extremists, including facilties in Eastern Europe.

The centers -- known as "black sites" -- were allegedly set up in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States, the paper reported, and some 100 suspects have been sent into the covert system.

"The Washington Post" also named Afghanistan and Thailand as hosts of secret jails. Thailand, where the jail is reported to have later closed, has issued a denial.

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