February 10, 2008 / 1:06 PM / in 10 years

U.S. transfers 20 more prisoners to Afghan custody

KABUL (Reuters) - The U.S. military has handed over a group of 20 suspected Taliban fighters to Afghan custody under a program to transfer all Afghan prisoners from U.S. detention, the Afghan Defence Ministry said on Sunday.

The prisoners were transferred from Bagram detention centre, the hub of U.S.-led military operation to the north of Kabul, and will be kept in Pul-i-Charkhi prison on the outskirts of the capital, it said.

“These prisoners ... were actively involved in terrorist ... operations against government forces and international troops,” it said in a statement referring to the foreign forces stationed in Afghanistan under the command of the U.S. military and NATO.

Saturday’s transfer was the 15th round of its kind since last year when the U.S. military agreed to hand over all suspected Taliban prisoners after repeated Afghan government requests.

Under the deal, all Afghan detainees kept at the U.S. detention centre in Guantanamo Bay jail in Cuba, will be also transferred to Afghan custody.

The ministry did not say how many Afghan prisoners have been handed over so far and how many are still held in Guantanamo Bay, Bagram and other U.S. detention centers in Afghanistan.

The U.S. military has arrested thousands of suspected Taliban and al Qaeda militants since invading Afghanistan in 2001 and helping topple the Taliban government.

It has released several hundred detainees from Guantanamo Bay and its facilities in Afghanistan since, but an unknown number are still held.

Taliban prisoners have staged at least two revolts in Pul-i-Charkhi before it was refurbished and in the past have complained of being badly treated. Several have managed to escape.

Transferred inmates are set to be tried by a joint Afghan commission. Those acquitted will be freed, according to Afghan officials.

Human rights groups have criticized the U.S. government for holding suspected Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners indefinitely and without trial. Many former prisoners have complained of ill treatment.

Writing by Sayed Salahuddin, editing by Matthew Jones

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