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Sudan lawmakers say denied access to Guantanamo

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August 9, 2007 (KHARTOUM) — The United States has rejected a request by a Sudanese lawmakers’ human rights team to visit the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay and check on the condition of Sudanese detainees, a delegation member said on Thursday.

The four-member team wanted to inspect conditions in the camp, in which nine Sudanese prisoners have been held without charge for more than five years, among them Sami al-Haj, a journalist with television news channel al-Jazeera, he said.

The United States has faced strong criticism over the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

"We sent a letter to the ministry of foreign affairs asking for permission to send a delegation from the human rights commission," said Hamato Mukhtar, a member of the team from the parliamentary committee for human rights.

"The foreign ministry responded that the U.S. embassy said this is not the right time."

The U.S. embassy in Khartoum said on Thursday it had neither received nor refused any visa application by any Sudanese parliamentarian.

"There have been no applications by any deputy that we are aware of," the embassy said in a statement sent to Reuters.

U.S. President George W. Bush has said he would like to close the camp but calls it a necessary tool in the "war on terror".

Haj, who grew up in Sudan, was arrested and turned over to U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2001. Accused of involvement in "terrorist" activity, he was later transferred to Guantanamo.

Haj’s brother, Asim al-Haj, says U.S. forces at Guantanamo Bay have interrogated Haj extensively about al-Jazeera and offered him conditional release if he spied on the network.

"They want him to spy on the al-Jazeera channel and send them [the Americans] information ...They think al-Jazeera is funded by Al Qaeda.

"He refused," Asim al-Haj told Reuters by telephone.

Sudanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs Ali Karti told Reuters the ministry had requested clarification from the United States many times about five known Sudanese nationals detained in Guantanamo Bay, but had received none.

"In spite of the big mouth of America talking about freedoms ... Sami al-Haj and other Sudanese ... until now they are detainees and their countries and families do not find any answers," he said.

Reporters Without Borders, a media rights group, says there are 450 prisoners being held in violation of international law at Guantanamo.

(Reuters)

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