Macedonian hearing over rendition flights opens

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Hearings opened Friday in a civil lawsuit launched by a German national who says he was abducted by the CIA in Macedonia in 2003 and flown to Afghanistan for questioning.

Lebanese-born Khaled el-Masri says he was abducted by CIA operatives while on holiday in Skopje in 2003 and secretly flown to Afghanistan where he was questioned and tortured by the CIA.

He is seeking 50,000 euros (68,000 dollars) in damages and an apology from the Macedonian interior ministry.

Masri says he was held for four months in a secret CIA prison known as the Salt Pit before being released without charge and returned to Germany.

To be able to claim damages he will have to prove that secret CIA prisons existed in Macedonia, something Skopje has always denied.

On the first day of the proceedings the civil court heard testimony from Clara Gutteridge an investigator for the London-based rights group Reprieve who has researched the issue of rendition flights.

Masri's lawyer Filip Medarski said that while Skopje confirms that he was in Macedonia they do not accept the rest of his story.

In 2007, The US Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling to reject the civil case Masri filed there against the US administration on national security grounds.

In 2009, a Macedonian public prosecutor ruled there was not enough evidence for a criminal trial.

Masri was not present for the opening of the civil case in Skopje.

Rendition flights, whereby suspects were transferred covertly to a third country or to US-run detention centres, started after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

© 2011 AFP

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