Mideast - AFP
Several thousand Iraqi prisoners still held in southern Iraq: Red Cross
Fri Apr 25, 1:24 PM ET

BASRA (AFP) - Coalition forces are still holding several thousand Iraqi prisoners of war despite the end of large-scale hostilities in Iraq, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.

"There are several thousand of them," said the ICRC's Bart Vermeiren, who has recently inspected conditions at the POW camp near the southern port of Umm Qasr.

He said the Red Cross had set up a system for the prisoners to write to their families to tell them they were alive and well, adding that 2,600 such messages had been collected so far and that they were now being distributed.

The letters contain no personal message, just the words "Safe and well" written in English and in Arabic.

The British army, which now controls the sector around Umm Qasr in southern Iraq after the US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, would not say how many prisoners were held in the camp.

A spokesman said inquiries should be directed to the US military, which he said was in charge of the camp.

A Pentagon spokesman said last Friday that US military tribunals in Iraq had begun deciding the status of some 6,850 people taken prisoner during the war.

Those who can prove that they are civilians are transported back to their communities and released, US officers at the camp said last week.

The others are sorted into one of two categories: Enemy Prisoner of War or unlawful combatant, they added. The first comprises soldiers who fought in uniform, while the latter covers all others -- including the notorious Saddam Fedayeen paramilitary force and armed Baath party members.

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