11 Sep 2012

Afghans take control of prison

6:14 am on 11 September 2012

Afghanistan says it has taken control of a controversial prison set up by United States troops, but is yet to iron out disagreements over the fate of hundreds of inmates.

A move hailed by Kabul as a victory for sovereignty, analysts say it is largely symbolic as NATO prepares to leave Afghanistan after more than a decade fighting the Taliban, leaving Afghan security personnel in charge in late 2014.

However, major questions remain over the immediate and long-term fate of more than 3100 inmates, which include Taliban fighters and terror suspects held at the Bagram jail, AFP reports.

About 50 foreigners are not covered by the agreement, and hundreds of other Afghans arrested since the transfer deal was signed on 9 March this year are also being held at the Parwan Detention Facility, outside the Bagram US airbase north of Kabul.

Afghan officials on Monday presided over a small handover ceremony, marked by a low attendance among US and NATO officers.

Afghan military police commander Safiullah Safi said that 3182 prisoners had been formally handed over to Afghan military police, following a six-month transition.

President Hamid Karzai demanded authority over the prison as conditional to addressing long-term Afghan-US relations and possible legal immunity for American troops - the key to troops remaining in the country after 2014.

However, the Memorandum of Understanding governing the handover is not legally binding.

Mr Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi said there were disagreements over the interpretation of the deal and that more than 600 people detained since 9 March have not been transferred to Afghan custody.

He told AFP that talks on Saturday between Mr Karzai, the US ambassador and the US commander in Afghanistan had been "tough" and said the 600 yet to be transferred were being held illegally in contradiction of the Memorandum of Understanding.

Jamie Graybeal, a NATO spokesman, said 99% of detainees held before 9 March were under Afghan authority and that the transfer of the rest had been put on hold, pending concerns about the intentions of the government to fulfil the terms of the memorandum.

Mr Graybeal said the US retained the authority to capture and detain suspects, but intended to continue to transfer Afghan detainees to Afghans. Foreign detainees will remain under US control and American advisers will also stay at the prison until 9 March 2013.