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No proof of CIA secret flights - EU official

Written by: Staff

BRUSSELS, Apr 20 (Reuters) The European Union's anti-terrorism coordinator today said there was no proof yet the CIA ran secret flights and detention centres for terror suspects in the bloc, drawing scorn from some EU lawmakers.

''That evidence has not been established,'' Gijs de Vries told a committee in the European Parliament which is investigating allegations of CIA rights abuses made late last year by media and human rights groups.

After months without a breakthrough in the investigations, the head of the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog also investigating allegations of CIA abuses, said last week that illegal renditions of terror suspects had indeed taken place.

The council's Terry Davis said one European country had acknowledged illegally handing over individuals to US agents.

But De Vries, who was appointed to coordinate EU efforts against terrorism after the March 2004 attacks in Madrid, said it was premature to draw conclusions.

Davis ''has not yet concluded his investigations either so let us not jump to conclusions'', de Vries said after his hearing by the EU lawmakers.

Several of them criticised him strongly.

''Are you just a think-tank or do you have information from the member states' secret services?'' asked the Spanish EU lawmaker Ignasi Guardans, after de Vries repeatedly said he was only coordinating intelligence analysis and that operational work was out of his reach and done individually by EU countries.

GERMANY ACCUSED A former British ambassador to Uzbekistan was questioned at the same hearing about allegations of secret flights operated by the US Central Intelligence Agency from Europe.

Craig Murray said he had no proof of flights from EU countries but had no doubt about flights transporting ethnic Uzbeks from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan.

Murray also said Germany had received information ''most certainly obtained under torture'' by Uzbek authorities.

He said Germany had close links with Uzbek security services and continued to do so. He gave no further details and no one was immediately available to comment at the German government.

Murray's 21-year diplomatic career came to an abrupt end in 2004 after he accused the United States and his own country of endorsing torture by using confessions obtained through torture from prisoners in the authoritarian Central Asian state.

Uzbekistan, a country bordering Afghanistan which is home to a US military base and is counted by Washington as an ally in its war on terror, has denied systematically using torture.

The United States has acknowledged secret renditions but both it and Britain say they do not endorse torture.

The European Parliament's committee has heard several of the alleged victims of CIA secret flights, including Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen arrested in December 2003.

He was flown to Afghanistan and held for months as a terrorist suspect by the United States. A group of EU lawmakers will travel to Macedonia at the end of this month to further investigate this case.

Another group will head to Washington in early May, seeking meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and CIA chief Porter Goss.


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