U.S. official suggests possible accord with Algeria on release of Guantanamo prisoners

U.S. official suggests possible accord with Algeria on release of Guantanamo prisoners

The Associated Press, International Harald Tribune, February 27, 2008 http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/02/27/africa/AF-GEN-Algeria-US.php

ALGIERS, Algeria: An accord could be concluded soon with Algeria on the eventual return of at least some of its citizens held in the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday.

David Welch, an assistant secretary of state, said on a visit to this North African country that the United States wants to send terror suspects held at Guantanamo home but must be assured they do not present a danger.

It is not clear how many Algerians are being held as terror suspects at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. However, hundreds of Algerians were known to have joined terror training camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan in the 1990s, making them a significant bloc among the foreigners drawn to Osama bin Laden.

Welch expressed hope that an accord with Algeria could be concluded shortly regarding its citizens, suggesting the aim is to send some home, according to Algeria’s official APS news agency.

The question is whether some prisoners should be tried, and « if that is not the case, that doesn’t mean they are not dangerous, » APS quoted Welch as saying. Today in Africa & Middle East Kenyan tourism suffering badly from violence Turkey announces troop withdrawal from northern Iraq Iraqi leaders say ‘Chemical Ali’ will be executed

U.S. President George W. Bush has said he would like to close Guantanamo, where 275 prisoners remain, suspected of links to the al-Qaida terror network.

Welch said assurances are needed that sending a prisoner home does not open a door to danger. He said some prisoners returned to their homelands were later freed.

Algeria could pose special problems. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has offered an amnesty under a 2006 plan that freed thousands of Islamic insurgents from jails, a bid to reconcile the country after years of violence. Some are known to have returned to their hideouts to fight again. Meanwhile, a homegrown terror group has affiliated itself with al-Qaida.

An estimated 200,000 people have been killed since the start of the insurgency in 1992, triggered by an army decision to cancel national elections that a Muslim fundamentalist party was poised to win.

Welch expressed U.S. support for Algeria’s fight against terrorism.

He also said the United States was ready to study an arms sales to Algeria eventually, APS quoted him as saying, without elaborating.

Ties between Washington and Algiers have strengthened, particularly since the 9/11 terror attacks, with a once-isolated Bouteflika seen as a key player in the fight against terrorism.