Transfer of US prison to Afghans delayed again

KABUL (AP) - The long-awaited transfer of the US detention centre in Afghanistan was delayed once again Saturday as a deal struck between the two governments broke down the day before a planned handover ceremony.

The delay suggests that the two sides have yet to resolve thorny issues such as whether Afghans can be held without trial and whether the US will have the power to block the release of detainees it considers particularly dangerous.

It also throws a pall over ongoing negotiations for a bilateral security agreement that would govern the presence of US forces in Afghanistan after the current combat mission ends in 2014.

As recently as Friday morning, Afghan workers at the Defence Ministry were arranging transport for dignitaries and journalists to attend Saturday's ceremony at the detention center adjoining the Bagram Air Field, a US base about an hour outside of the capital.

The Parwan Detention Centre houses Afghans and some foreigners picked up by US forces.

Currently, there is an Afghan administrator of the prison, but the Americans have power to veto the release of detainees.

The prisoners held under American authority do not have the right to a trial because the US considers them detainees held as part of an ongoing conflict.

Then on Saturday morning, organisers told journalists that the ceremony had been canceled. Afghan officials declined to give a reason.

"The ceremony is not happening today," Defence Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said, without elaborating.

US military officials said the ceremony was canceled because they could not finalise the agreement with the Afghans.

"We continue to work out the details on the transfer of the Detention Facility in Parwan to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan," Mr Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan, said in an email.

He said that the US remains committed to transferring the facility and all Afghan detainees.

"We intend to proceed with the transfer once we have reached full agreement," Gen Graybeal said.