U.N. warns Syria over detention of Homs men

A total of 381 male evacuees from the opposition-held Old City district of Homs were still being held in a school building

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The United Nations warned Friday that Syria was on watch over its treatment of hundreds of men and boys detained after being evacuated from the embattled city of Homs.

A total of 381 male evacuees from the opposition-held Old City district of Homs were still being held Friday in a school building for questioning by Syrian security services, said UN refugee agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.

“We are consistently and continually calling on the government to ensure the safety and security of these people and to respect international and human rights law,” Fleming told reporters.

Marixie Mercado, spokeswoman for U.N. children's agency UNICEF, said that there were 14 boys between the ages of 15 and 18 still being held.

Fleming said the concerns also applied to detainees who had been released -- 170 were set free on Thursday -- with the UN striving to keep track of them.

The detainees are among some 1,400 who have been evacuated thanks to a shaky UN-monitored truce in the city since last week.

The opposition-held districts of Homs have been under siege by the Syrian government for 600 days, with an estimated 4,000 people facing daily bombardment and dwindling supplies.

The regime has said it was essential to interrogate men in order to weed out “terrorists” -- it says the revolt is fuelled by foreign jihadists and Gulf money.

But the opposition sees the decision to separate the men of Homs from women and children as worryingly ominous.

“The mere fact of questioning people is not illegal in these circumstances. So what we're looking out for is what next, what it leads to,” said Rupert Coville, spokesman for the UN's human rights office.

“If someone is detained for a length a time, there needs to be a good reason. There should be a legal reason for it,” Colville said.

“All we can do is really try and sharpen the spotlight on the situation, to flag the dangers of it and to point out the importance of really keeping an eye on what happens to these men and boys,” he added.

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