American planes carrying detainees to the U.S. &to=http://english.pravda.ru/usa/2001/03/11/2929.html' target=_blank>military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may have made refueling stopovers in Romania, the country's former defense minister suggested in an interview published Saturday.
It was the first time a senior Romanian official who would have had access to information about U.S. military activity in Romania has acknowledged that prisoners may have transited the country.
In his remarks to the daily Evenimentul Zilei, however, Ioan Mihai Pascu indicated that any such stopovers would not amount to evidence that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency was running a secret prison for &to=http://english.pravda.ru/main/2003/01/25/42553.html' target=_blank>al-Qaida suspects on Romanian soil, as has been alleged.
He told the newspaper that Romania's Supreme Defense Council, the country's top defense body, never received a request from the CIA to operate such a prison in the country. He did tell the paper that there had been "intense collaboration" between Romanian and American intelligence services, without elaborating.
"So a flight landed here for refueling? That's something else," he said. "If there were stopovers, what's the problem? Such a plane would be American territory, and if there was something, the American law is broken."
While Romanian officials have denied the existence of a secret CIA prison, they have been vague about the issue of possible transit of prisoners through Romanian territory.
Pascu told the newspaper such stopovers would have been "normal."
"What should we protest about? What's the big deal? They surely didn't come from Guantanamo on foot?" he told the newspaper.
Pascu, who was defense minister from 2000 to 2004, is currently a lawmaker for the opposition Social Democracy Party in the Chamber of Deputies. He could not be immediately reached for comment by The Associated Press on Saturday.