Macedonia fails to convince EU investigative team

From Expatica

“This all looks like a poor B-movie,” said German Green MEP Cem Oezdemir, adding: “It doesn’t seem to be an appropriate behaviour for a country which wants to become an EU member.”

BRUSSELS – European Union lawmakers Thursday accused Macedonia of giving “very contradictory information” on what it knew about the alleged abduction by the CIA of a Lebanese-born German national on its territory.

“Macedonian officials had a well-prepared official version, but there were many contradictions, and many new questions arose during our trip,” said Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann, a German member of the European Parliament.

Members of a European Parliament committee investigating alleged CIA activities in Europe last week went to Macedonia to quiz top government officials on what they knew about – and if they were involved – in a high-profile case of the US-practice of extraordinary rendition or the secret transfers of a suspect to a third country for interrogation, often under torture.

Khaled al-Masri claims he was seized by Macedonian police forces when he was travelling in the country in 2003. He says he was held by Macedonian guards in a hotel in Skopje and then flown by the CIA to Afghanistan where he was jailed as a terrorism suspect before being released without explanation in May 2004 in Albania.

Macedonian officials said they knew that al-Masri was in the country but claimed no knowledge of his whereabouts, said Italian Socialist Euro MP Claudio Fava, the committee’s rapporteur.

“The question now is: What happened during those 23 days al-Masri was held?” Fava asked, adding: “There was a certain amount of reluctance on the Macedonian side, some doubts still remain.”

Macedonia, which is negotiating EU accession and is a US military ally in Iraq, has denied any wrongdoing. The government has acknowledged that al-Masri was held at the border with Kosovo but claimed he was released a few hours later, MEPs said.

A Munich prosecutor is currently scrutinizing official documents which could establish when al-Masri entered and left the country, Euro MPs said. But they added that recent changes in staff at the hotel in Skopje and the unavailability of its owner when MEPs were visiting it, raised new suspicions.

“This all looks like a poor B-movie,” said German Green MEP Cem Oezdemir, adding: “It doesn’t seem to be an appropriate behaviour for a country which wants to become an EU member.”

Euro MPs in Skopje held talks with President Branko Crvenkovski, Deputy Prime Minister Radmila Sekerinska, Interior Minister Ljubomir Mihailovski as well as with officials of the Macedonian security service.

Meanwhile, UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak told Euro MPs that there was no denying the existence of secret detention centres since the US was holding people without divulging their whereabouts.”

Nowak said European governments must step up efforts to investigate the case and also join forces to put pressure on the US to cooperate with the European inquiries.

A delegation of the parliamentary committee will leave for Washington next week to collect information from former CIA officials.

Data from Eurocontrol, the European air safety agency, shows that the CIA operated more than 1,000 flights in Europe since 2001, a report by the Parliament’s committee said last week.

The 46-member parliamentary committee investigating the CIA charges was set up in January. It is working in tandem with an inquiry by the Council of Europe. However, the committee has no power to sanction European governments.

The Council of Europe, the continent’s top human rights watchdog, said earlier that European governments had violated human rights treaties by helping the US to transport terror suspects to other countries for interrogation.

Allegations that the CIA hid and interrogated key Al Qaeda suspects at Soviet-era compounds in Eastern Europe were first reported last November.

Human Rights Watch identified Romania and Poland as possible sites of the detention centres, but both countries have denied involvement.