*EPF206 04/01/2003
Red Cross Begins Visiting Iraqi Prisoners of War
(Baghdad has not granted similar visits) (290)

Washington -- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said March 31 that a team of 15 delegates, including one medical doctor and six interpreters, has begun visiting Iraqi prisoners of war captured by coalition forces.

"During this first day, they visited all parts of the camp, located in southern Iraq, and registered an initial group of prisoners," the ICRC statement, issued in Geneva, said, adding that "The visit is due to continue tomorrow [April 1] and for a number of days thereafter."

The Red Cross is engaged in talks with Iraqi authorities about gaining access to coalition soldiers captured by Iraq, the ICRC statement said.

"Prisoners of war are protected by international humanitarian law. They must be treated humanely at all times," the ICRC statement said. "The Third Geneva Convention gives the ICRC access to all prisoners of war, wherever they are being held, so that the organization can monitor their treatment and conditions of detention."

The ICRC, as part of its mission, attempts to re-establish contacts between the prisoners and their relatives.

"In line with its standard practice, the ICRC will not comment publicly on treatment or conditions of detention, but will submit its findings to the detaining authorities with a view to achieving improvement if and when required," the statement said.

Preventing ICRC delegates from visiting prisoners of war and carrying out their mission would amount to a violation of humanitarian law, the statement noted.

Coalition forces report that they have taken approximately 4,000 Iraqi prisoners of war, while Iraq reports that it has taken at least six Americans prisoner, including two pilots.

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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