Homs governor says detained evacuees to be freed

AFP , Thursday 13 Feb 2014

Civilians wait to be evacuated from a besieged area of Homs February 12, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

Men arrested by the Syrian authorities after being evacuated from besieged districts of Homs under a UN-brokered ceasefire will be released on Thursday, the provincial governor said.

"Young men aged between 18 and 54 will be freed today (Thursday)," Talal Barazi told AFP, without specifying how many would be released.

Barazi said a total of 390 men of weapons-bearing age had been detained for interrogation after being evacuated from rebel-held districts of the country's third city.

He said on Wednesday that 111 had been released, though there was no immediate confirmation from the UN, which had earlier said 42 had been freed.

Anti-regime activists say they fear arrest if they leave the rebel-controlled enclaves.

"The regime has said it would release men after they had been screened, and we expect them to keep that pledge," a US State Department spokesman said in Washington on Wednesday.

"Given the regime's past actions, the international community cannot take this for granted and needs to monitor the fate of these men," Edgar Vasquez said.

Barazi said aid deliveries to civilians trapped in the Old City and further evacuations will be suspended on Thursday in the expectation of a truce being extended.

An estimated 3,000 civilians are trapped in besieged neighbourhoods of the city.

A UN-supervised operation to distribute aid and evacuate civilians from a handful of rebel neighbourhoods in the heart of Homs began on Friday.

The deal between rebels and the regime allowing the evacuation made no mention of whether men of military age could leave.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday that 336 detained men had been taken to a UN-supervised site for questioning by the authorities.

The humanitarian operation "will not take place today. The ceasefire must be extended from tomorrow (Friday) for three days," Barazi told AFP.

Since last Friday, 1,417 people have been given safe passage out of Homs.

The evacuations were carried out and aid sent in despite the ceasefire being violated several times and 14 people killed in shelling.

"The regime should know that the world is watching with deep concern what is taking place in Homs and the status of these male evacuees," Vasquez said.

"Any attempt to arbitrarily detain them will not go unnoticed."

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