Egypt defends border shootings

— Egypt defended its use of lethal force against African migrants trying to cross illegally into Israel, saying Monday that it does so only as a last resort and to fight criminal activity in the politically sensitive area.

Hundreds of Africans seeking political asylum or jobs in relatively prosperous Israel try to sneak across the border each year. Amnesty International says Egyptian border guards have fatally shot nearly 40 migrants trying to do so since the start of 2008. The London-based rights group and others have criticized Egypt for failing to rein in its border guards or investigate the recurrent cases.

Egypt's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said the use of force is necessary for Egypt's security in a "sensitive" area where criminal activities - including drug and weapons smuggling - are common.

He said in a statement that the guards first shout over loudspeakers, then fire warning shots, but don't always have the chance to identify the infiltrators.

Amnesty International spokesman Nicole Choueiry said Egypt should release data on those shootings so that observers can determine whether international principles are being respected. But she says Egypt has so far failed to do so.

"Investigation is key," Choueiry said by phone from London. "The numbers [killed], the circumstances and the lack of information have been alarming."

Front Section, Pages 6 on 09/15/2009