GENEVA – The international Red Cross said Monday it had started visiting thousands of prisoners of war held by coalition forces in Iraq, but had yet to receive word that it can see U.S. POWs taken by the Iraqi military.
Balthasar Staehelin, Mideast head at the International Committee of the Red Cross, told reporters that 15 staff from the Swiss-based organization traveled to a camp in southern Iraq where coalition forces were holding 3,000 soldiers.
Staehelin, in keeping with the traditionally discreet organization's policy, refused to give the exact location of the camp or say whether it was run by U.S. or British troops.
ICRC officials met for several hours with the camp commander before touring the facility and beginning to register the captives, Staehelin said.
Although the ICRC is holding talks with Iraqi authorities, Baghdad has so far failed to give the organization access to coalition POWs. The Geneva Conventions requires Red Cross access to the prisoners.
Since the U.S.-led war began on March 20, Iraq has acknowledged capturing six Americans, including two pilots. Staehelin said the ICRC had "indications" that access would be granted.
The 1949 Geneva Conventions — which set basic humanitarian standards in armed conflict — empower the ICRC to visit POWs and monitor their treatment.
After captured Americans were shown being questioned on Iraqi television on March 24, the ICRC said it was unhappy about the broadcast. The ICRC expressed similar disquiet over television footage of captured Iraqi soldiers.