Sunday, March 25, 2007

Kidnapped in Kenya

passenger manifest for flight FY-AXF,
from Nairobi-Mogadishu, one of several
such documents obtained by Reprieve

MORE than 60 people, including at least four women and six children, have been taken from Kenya and are thought to be held in secret locations in Ethiopia and Somalia. The captives include UK, US, French and Canadian nationals. But, unlike the British embassy staff who went missing in Ethiopia's Afar region earlier this month, they have not been the focus of nightly news coverage on TV, nor have we have heard of "round-the-clock" diplomatic efforts to free them.

The five Brits taken then were released after 12 days "in good health", and said they had been well treated by their captors. There are fears the 63 people taken from Kenya may not be so fortunate.

Two rights charities, Reprieve and Cageprisoners, say they are deeply concerned for the fate of the prisoners, "believed to be held in secret detention in Somalia and Ethiopia, apparent victims of a mass rendition operation from Kenya involving nationals of at least 16 states: Canada, Comoros, Ethiopia, Eritrea, France, Kenya, Oman, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sweden, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, and Yemen. Among the 63 are least four women and six children. The 63 prisoners were apparently transferred with no observance of any judicial process, and are at serious risk of torture".
Many of those taken were seized in joint US, Kenyan and Ethiopian operations on the Kenyan/Somali border in December 2006 and January 2007. They were initially transferred to detention facilities in Kenya where they were held without charge for up to three weeks. Then according to flight manifests obtained by Reprive and Cageprisoners the 63 were taken from Kenya to Somalia, and some were then moved to Ethiopia.
A British citizen transferred to Somalia in the early hours of Saturday, February 10 described the journey:

"We were woken up late in the night on Friday and told to pack our bags. We just had a few things like toothbrush, socks, t-shirt. From there we were put in the back of a mini-van and driven to an airport. Before the gates were checkpoints with Kenyan soldiers. It looked like a military place but I saw BA and Emirates airplanes there too. We remained in the vehicle. Many other cars were coming.
"Most of the officers were not in uniform. One of the men there was the one who had interrogated me in the first police station. They called him the Major. He popped his head in when I was speaking to a police-man who was bald with a prostration mark. We remained there for a while. More vehicles and police vans kept coming - around 10 vehicles in total. We could see that people were being held in the back of the vans but it was very dark so we could not see how many.
"This was when the bald Kenyan with the prostration mark was talking to us about pre-destination. It sounded as though he was trying to prepare us for something. Francis [the Kenyan anti-terrorist officer] was there as well.
Francis came to our vehicle and he had a bit of paper in his hand. I saw on the bit of paper it had a column with names. I saw my name, and the names of the other British citizens. The next column said "nationality" and opposite our names were 'British'. At the top of the next column it said 'ticket date-booked'. In the next column Francis put a tick. Then he moved onto the next vehicle.
"'Prostration Mark' came to our vehicle. He said to us: whatever happens to you just understand why this is taking place. Other vehicles started driving towards a small jet. Not like a passenger airplane. There were big metal cargo containers with UN written on them next to the jets. Everyone was handcuffed and blindfolded and put on the jet by Kenyans. Our hands were behind us and it was too uncomfortable to lean back.
There were thirteen prisoners on the flight. There were also Kenyan intelligence officers on the plane, but Francis was not one of them. We flew for the whole night and landed in the morning, in daylight, on a runway. I was taken off the jet still blindfolded. I could hear the other prisoners being taken off the jet at the same time, and I could see a little through my blindfold. When I was off the plane I could hear loud Somali voices. I did not hear any Swahili voices. These two facts made me believe I was in Somalia. I was put in the back of a truck with the other 12 people who had been on my plane. I could see the uniform of the officers escorting us through my blindfold. I knew they were Somali not Kenyans as they were wearing Somali army clothes and blue army hats. All I could hear was Somali being spoken".
Kamilya Tuweil, a United Arab Emirates citizen and Arabic/Swahili translator whose case is cited by Reprieve had travelled to Kenya on with an African business associate, Milly Mithouni Gako, and two Omanis. They were staying at the Eden Lodge Hotel in Mombasa where they were arrested by Kenya anti-terrorist police on 10 January - allegedly after refusing to pay a $5,000 bribe. The four of them were taken to police stations, then released within a month -except for Kamilya. On 27 January Kamilya phoned Millie at 3 am to say "They have come for me".
Millie did not hear from her again. But Kamilya's name appears on a flight manifest dated 27 January for African Express Airways flight 5Y-AXF from Kenya to Somalia (depicted above). Back in Dubai, her children wait for more news, or better still, their mother to return.
Meanwhile, Reprieve says that the names on the manifests they have seen include nine women and five children.
Reprieve and Cageprisoners are demanding that the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments and the Transitional government of Somalia make full public disclosure of what prisoners are being held, and where, and allow access for international humanitarian organisations, diplomats and lawyers.
They are also calling on those governments whose nationals have been taken prisoner to make effective representations for their release and return home.
At least one of these governments probably knows more than anyone else about what is going on. A 24-year old US citizen, Amir Mohammed Meshal, now held in Ethiopia, was able to tell Kenyan human rights activists while held at Kileleshwa police station in Nairobi that his interrogators included American FBI agents. A British citizen who was held at Kileleshwa also reported that FBI men were working with Kenyan officers and had threatened a prisoner with torture if he did not give them the information they wanted.
Bush's "war on terror" has extended its tentacles to the north-east corner of Africa, bringing with it American "freedom" - that is, freedom for American agents and their stooges to do what they want with anyone they don't like the look of.
For the full story about this frightening affair visit:

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