US to transfer last Afghan inmates from Bagram jail

March 07, 2013 - 6:27:17 am

KABUL: President Hamid Karzai said yesterday that the United States would hand over a final group of Afghan prisoners held at a controversial jail, signalling a breakthrough in a long-running dispute with Washington.

Last September the United States gave Afghan authorities control of more than 3,000 detainees at Bagram, a sprawling detention centre north of Kabul which has in the past been dubbed the Guantanamo Bay of Afghanistan.

But the Americans continued to guard 50 foreigners not covered by the agreement as well as hundreds of Afghans arrested since the transfer deal was signed in March 2012.

In November Karzai accused the United States of breaching the deal, saying prisoners found innocent by courts were still being held and more people had been captured by American forces against the provisions of the agreement.

Kabul made control over the prison a condition for signing a long-term agreement that would allow some US troops to remain in the country after the bulk of Western combat forces withdraw next year.

The US is seeking immunity from local prosecution for any troops that remain.

But implementation of the transfer has been beset by disagreements, and negotiations over the fate of detainees have often ground to a halt.

“Our efforts for the transfer of the US-run prison, years-long efforts, have eventually paid off and... the transfer will at last take place,” Karzai told the opening of a new parliamentary session.

“This transfer of prison will take place on Saturday,” he added.

The US-led military coalition in Kabul declined to comment, except to confirm that the final handover would take place on Saturday.

The Afghanistan Analysts Network think-tank said this week that disputes over Bagram had led to “rocky times” for Afghan-US relations but now “both sides appear determined to come to some kind of agreement”.