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Ethiopian television shows eight terror suspects

Eight terror suspects are paraded on Ethiopia's state-run television, which critics say violates international law.

The detainees told the Ethiopian News Agency they were being treated humanely, with one prisoner saying the captors were "like our friends" and another thanking the government for treating them so well.

The Tuesday night broadcast came hours after the government confirmed an Associated Press report that Ethiopia detained dozens of foreign suspects as part of an effort to stem terrorism. Human rights groups say the detentions are illegal; Ethiopia has strongly denied that.

Ethiopian initially denied any suspects were in custody, but U.S. officials said they had questioned some detainees in Ethiopia.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, the guardian of the Geneva Conventions that protect victims of war, has tried unsuccessfully to meet with the detainees, ICRC spokesman Patrick Megevand said Wednesday.

The prisoners offered a glowing image of Ethiopia, which has a long history of human rights abuses. The country has also been a key U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaida, which has been trying to sink roots in the Horn of Africa.

"I do appreciate everything," said Muhibitabo Clement Ibrahim, a Rwandan. "The treatment here is very good. Ethiopians are very sociable and they respect human rights."

Munir Awad, a Swedish citizen of Lebanese descent, said: "They treat us very well, they are like our friends."

Syrian detainee Osama Abdulaziz Al Nasib "thanked the Ethiopian government for the good treatment, shelter, clothing, food and medical treatment since he was transferred to the Ethiopian forces after he was apprehended in Somalia-Kenyan border," the report said.

The news agency also provided a photo of the men, including 24-year-old American Amir Mohammed Meshal, smiling and wearing T-shirts and track suits with their arms around each other. The location and date of the photo were not given.

Meshal's father, Mohamed Meshal, said he had not seen the television footage but called it a "publicity stunt" that seemed designed to improve Ethiopia's image.

"My main concern is that my son is freed. That's my main concern. If they give them two minutes of publicity, fine, so be it," he said in a telephone interview from New Jersey, where he lives.

The family's lawyer sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday, seeking her help.

The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa said this week it would have no comment on the detentions. Calls to the European Commission's ambassador to Ethiopia were not immediately successful.

The ICRC said showing prisoners of war on television or otherwise exposing them to public curiosity violates the Geneva Conventions. There has been no official determination about whether the detainees are POWs. Some were swept up by Ethiopian troops that drove a radical Islamist government out of neighboring Somalia late last year. Others have been deported from Kenya, where many Somalis have fled the continuing violence in their homeland.

Ethiopian officials had initially denied any suspects were in custody, but U.S. officials said they had questioned some of the detainees. Ethiopian and Somali officials now acknowledge cooperating in carrying out the detentions.

On Tuesday, Ethiopia said foreign interrogators were allowed to question the suspects with Ethiopian supervision.

"All the suspected terrorists, who said that they were allowed to appear before the court, thanked the Ethiopian government and concerned bodies for their good treatment," the state-run news agency said.

The Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Ministry said 29 of the 41 suspects have been ordered released by the Ethiopian government, and that five already have been freed. The ministry said only 12 foreign detainees would remain in custody after the next round of releases.

It was not clear from Tuesday's report if the eight men interviewed would remain in custody or be freed.

Human Rights Watch, which has accused the Ethiopian government of running a secret detention program, said they believe Ethiopia is holding more suspects than it says and condemned the decision to show the detainees on TV.

"Ethiopia's donors like the European Union and United States should be very concerned about the fact that Ethiopia is putting these people on TV before they have had access to independent monitors like the Red Cross or lawyers or even due process," said Tom Porteous, the U.K.-based