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Ethiopia puts terror suspects on display

NAIROBI -- Smiling broadly and wearing casual clothes, eight terrorism suspects were paraded on Ethiopia state television as the country faces mounting pressure to explain a controversial program to net accused Al Qaeda loyalists.

The detainees, including an American, told the Ethiopian News Agency they were being treated humanely. One said the captors were "like our friends," and another thanked the government for treating them so well.

The Tuesday night broadcast occurred hours after Ethiopia's government confirmed an Associated Press report that it had detained foreigners as part of an effort to stem terrorism in the Horn of Africa region.

Ethiopia, which has a long history of human rights abuses, disputed allegations from rights groups that the detentions violate international law. It said the jailings are part of the international war on terrorism and insisted it has the "right to defend itself from this danger."

A key US ally in the region, Ethiopia has a large Christian population. The country's Muslim community is growing rapidly, however, and officials fear Islamic militants are making inroads.

The detainees were captured in Kenya and Somalia, then moved to Ethiopia on suspicion of having ties to an Islamic militia that Ethiopia's army helped defeat in neighboring Somalia.

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

In the broadcast, the prisoners offered a glowing image of Ethiopia. "My treatment is good. No problems," said Amir Mohammed Meshal, a 24-year-old US citizen whose transfer to Ethiopia by Kenyan authorities drew formal protests from US diplomats earlier this year.

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

"My main concern is that my son is freed. . . . If they give them two minutes of publicity, fine, so be it," the Tinton Falls, N.J., resident said.