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Saturday, 19 January, 2002, 06:03 GMT
British officials visit Cuba captives
Camp X-Ray
Human rights groups are concerned about conditions
British officials are preparing to question three men - thought to be British - who are among the prisoners from Afghanistan being held at an American military base in Cuba.

The officials, whose visit to Camp X-Ray is expected to last a couple of days, are helping US authorities at the naval base in Guantanamo Bay where 110 prisoners are being held.

They will look at the prisoners' welfare and also help the US authorities with their legal inquiries

Downing Street
British intelligence agents from MI5 were also sent to interrogate the UK suspects on their links with other alleged terrorists, according to newspaper reports.

The conditions in which the suspects, flown to Cuba from Afghanistan, are being kept have come under scrutiny amid calls for proof they are being treated humanely.

International Red Cross officials started evaluating conditions at the US military camp in Friday.

After the visit, the Red Cross will compile a report on whether the captives are being treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war.

The US insists the men are not POWs but illegal combatants and so outside the scope of the conventions.

War is war

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said the British team would help the process of identification.

"They will look at the prisoners' welfare and also help the US authorities with their legal inquiries."

Ann Clwyd
Ann Clwyd: Detainees are POWs
The team would report back to the government, said the Foreign Office - which could not confirm whether the officials had spoken to any British detainees.

Ann Clwyd, chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, said it was very convenient for the Americans to say the detainees were not prisoners of war.

"Yet with their own prisoner they are putting him, an American, before an ordinary court.

"In any kind of conflict, even if you don't call a war a war, people taken prisoner during a conflict of that kind are called prisoners of war and given necessary protections."

More British suspects

Ms Clwyd said a group of MPs from the human rights committee would be visiting the US ambassador next week to put that point across.

Human rights activists have also objected to the men being shackled in wire cages open to the elements.

The Church of England entered the row over the detainees' treatment by pleading for the Taleban and al-Qaeda suspects to be treated with "humanity and dignity".

A joint statement by Anglican bishops expressed concern for the prisoners and anxiety over the continued US bombing of Afghanistan, which they said was leading to a growing number of civilian casualties.

The bishops said the requirements of justice demanded a "proportionate and measured" response from the international coalition against terrorism.

Mr Blair has told the BBC that the detainees were being held in much better conditions than the Taleban had held prisoners.

Six more Britons suspected of links to the Taleban or al-Qaeda in Afghanistan are reportedly being sent to the camp.

See also:

18 Jan 02 | England
Terror police arrest two more
17 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Church leaders enter Cuba row
16 Jan 02 | Scotland
Fears rise over charity worker
12 Jan 02 | South Asia
Harsh conditions for Afghan prisoners
28 Dec 01 | Americas
Destination Guantanamo Bay
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