Charges pending against Afghans accused of prison abuse: Australia

CANBERRA Tue Jun 18, 2013 10:48pm EDT

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Afghan authorities will lay charges against officials at a prison run by the country's internal security service, Australia said on Wednesday, just weeks after Canberra blocked prisoner transfers over fears of detainee mistreatment.

Afghan authorities were taking action after Australia stopped handing over insurgent suspects to an NDS-run detention facility at the coalition base in Tirin Kot, in southern Uruzgan province, Australia's Defense Minister Stephen Smith said.

"Australia has been informally advised by Afghan authorities that they are in the process of laying charges against a number of Afghan officials as a result of the allegations of detainee mistreatment at the National Directorate of Security facility," Smith said in a statement to parliament.

Prisoner transfers have been a major irritant in the relationship between Afghanistan's government and its Western backers, becoming more pronounced as the NATO-led coalition prepares to pull out most combat troops by the end of next year.

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, battling wide unpopularity among his own countrymen, has made detention a national sovereignty issue as his government tries to strike a deal on a long-term U.S. troop presence.

Karzai this month demanded Britain hand over more than 80 prisoners of war being held in Camp Bastion in southern Helmand province, saying their detention was against Afghan law.

But international rights groups and major Western countries, including Britain and Australia, have raised concern about human rights abuses and torture inside Afghan detention centers.

Afghanistan counters that Western nations rely on questionable international legal principles to detain Afghans without access to the country's courts.

Smith said any allegations of abuse or mistreatment had to be investigated "in a robust and transparent manner". Between August 2010 and this June there had been 62 allegations of detainee mistreatment by Afghan forces in Uruzgan, he said.

"It is appropriate for Australia to await the outcome of the Afghan investigation into this matter, and advice on any action to be taken, before Australia will consider a resumption of the transfer of ADF-apprehended detainees to Afghan authorities in Tarin Kot," he said.

After controversies about resettlement barriers for Afghan interpreters and other locals working for coalition forces in the country, Smith said Australia recognized it had a "moral responsibility to support those who have assisted us".

Afghan employees at risk of harm as a consequence of their jobs supporting Australia's 1,550 troops would be offered resettlement through a special visa process, he said, provided they passed a risk assessment.

(Editing by Ron Popeski)

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