ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- Ethiopia acknowledged for the first time yesterday that it detained 41 suspected terrorists from 17 countries, but defended the action as part of the international war on terror groups and denied reports that the prisoners were held incommunicado.
The statement was made a week after the Associated Press reported that terrorism suspects had been transferred from Kenya to Somalia and then to Ethiopia.
Ethiopian officials at the time denied any suspects were in custody, but US officials said they had questioned some detainees.
Human rights groups have called the detentions and transfers a violation of international law. The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has not been granted access to the detainees despite having sought meetings for the past month.
Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia at the end of last year to defeat an Islamic militia that was threatening to overthrow the UN-backed interim Somali government, which is struggling to exert control over the country.
Extremists linked to Al Qaeda fought on behalf of the Islamists.
"Suspected international terrorists have been and are still being captured by the joint forces of the transitional federal government of Somalia and Ethiopia," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. "Pursuant to a common understanding between Ethiopia and the TFG authorities, some of those captured have indeed been brought to Ethiopia."
Twenty-nine of the suspects have been ordered released by an Ethiopian military court, and five already have been freed, the statement said.
AP interviewed one woman and the mother of a teenager who were released by Ethiopia after two months without being allowed phone calls or having charges filed against them.
Ethiopia said only 12 foreign detainees would remain in custody after the next round of releases. The government strongly denied it acted in secrecy or violated rights.
"All legal procedures are being followed, and the suspected terrorists have been allowed to appear before the relevant court of law, in this instance before the competent Military Court," the statement said. "Ethiopia can confirm that no detainee has been subjected to violation of his/her rights."
The ministry also said foreign investigators had been allowed to question the suspects . It did not identify the nations involved.