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Risk of Epidemic in Overcrowded Detention Camps

March 10, 1992

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) _ Thousands of Muslim fundamentalists arrested in a government crackdown are in danger of contagious diseases unless crowding is eased at desert detention camps, a human-rights group said Monday.

″They are prisoners of opinion and should be freed immediately,″ said Rezzag Bara, secretary general of the Algerian Human Rights League, the first independent observers to inspect one of the camps.

The group said about 2,200 members of the banned Islamic Salvation Front are held without charge at a center built for 600 to 800 near Ourgla, a garrison town in the Sahara.

″We think there could be a risk of epidemic diseases unless they relieve the overcrowding,″ said Jamil Chelgam, part of an eight-member team from the rights league who visited the camp last week.

Government officials acknowledge detaining about 5,000 people, but the Salvation Front claims 30,000 are being held. Independent observers estimate between 15,000 to 20,000.

Representatives of the group did not say what diseases could break out in the five known detention camps holding Salvation Front members.

The detainees are housed six or seven to a small cell or packed into tents, Chelgam said. Water is scarce and temperatures range from 77 degrees during the day to 21 degrees at night. Temperatures rise past 100 degrees in the spring.

None of the detainees has been charged. Mohamed Boudiaf, president of the ruling High State Committee, has indicated he may order releases after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ends in April.

Nearly all were arrested in mid-February, when security forces cracked down on the Salvation Front after widespread rioting. The clashes came after the military-backed government canceled parliamentary elections that the fundamentalists were expected to win.

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