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Last Updated:  Saturday, 12 April, 2003, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Fate of US POWs unclear
By Yaroslav Lukov
BBC News Online

The Red Cross (ICRC) has announced that it is unable to get access to seven American prisoners-of-war in Iraq.

While the ICRC has visited a camp of Iraqi prisoners captured by the US-led coalition, there has been no contact whatsoever with the US soldiers officially listed as POWs.

American POWs
Pictures of US POWs shocked America
With Iraqi forces in disarray and no government functioning in Baghdad, the ICRC said it had no idea where the American prisoners might be or who was holding them.

Five of the POWs - Edgar Hernandez, Joseph Hudson, Shoshana Johnson, Patrick Miller, and James Riley - were pictured on television following their capture on 23 March but there has been no recent news of them.

The two other POWs are Ronald Young and David Williams, who were captured on 24 March when their Apache helicopter went down.

"We simply don't know who may be holding them. We don't know where they may be," ICRC spokesman Florian Westphal told BBC News Online.

The organisation is appealing to all parties in the Iraq conflict to fulfil their international obligations towards POWs under the Geneva Convention.

Mr Westphal pointed out that the Convention stipulates that captors remain fully responsible for the well-being of their prisoners.

The ICRC statement comes a day after the US military said it was "very concerned" about its missing personnel and working hard to establish their whereabouts.

US hopes

Five of the US POWs were captured on 23 March after an American convoy was ambushed near the southern Iraqi town of Naisiriya.

The US accused the Iraqi authorities of breaching the Geneva Convention after the five were shown on Iraqi state TV being interrogated by their captors.

Captive or missing
A British soldier processes an Iraqi prisoner of war in southern Iraq
Coalition: Seven US POWs and eight US missing-in-action
Iraq: about 13,800 POWs - no MIA figures available
Source: Pentagon/British MoD

The two other US soldiers were captured on 24 March after their Apache helicopter went down near the town of Karbala in central Iraq.

Another eight US soldiers are officially listed by the Pentagon as missing-in-action (MIAs).

The ICRC has been trying to get access to the US soldiers ever since their capture, but had no success even when the government of Saddam Hussein was still in power.

Under the Geneva Convention, the neutral agency has the right to visit all POWs to check their well-being and to carry messages from them to their families.

Mr Westphal said that - despite the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Iraq - the ICRC was still hoping to make contact with the POWs' captors.

On Thursday, US Major General Stanley McChrystal told a Pentagon briefing that the military did not have intelligence which could be shared with the press.

But he expressed hopes that with the fall of Saddam's regime chances would increase to find the US POWs.

"We believe that now that we are in the city and among the population and, essentially, regime control has gone, that the opportunity to get information about our prisoners goes way up," Major General McChrystal said.

"Because as the regime can no longer threaten, we believe more people are available for us to talk to, more people may feel free to give us information, so we're very hopeful about that."

Iraqi POWs

Mr Westphal said that so far ICRC delegates had had regular access to Iraqi POWs held by the coalition and had already visited more than 3,000 of them.

The ICRC had also begun registering and interviewing the Iraqi prisoners.

But, in line with longstanding ICRC policy, delegates would not comment on conditions, saying only that if there were problems, they would be taken up with the relevant authorities.

The US says that is has 7,300 Iraqi POWs, while UK forces are holding another 6,500.

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