Human Rights Watch today called on the World Bank to intervene at the highest levels with officials in Beijing to help secure the release of two foreigners detained in Qinghai Province, site of a controversial new World Bank project.

"The World Bank should press Beijing to release these two men immediately," said Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. "The Bank has a special responsibility. It should strongly protest the arbitrary detention of foreigners or Chinese citizens who may be concerned about the impact of its resettement project."

The two men, Gabriel Lafitte, an Australian, and Daja Meston, an American, both of whom have a long-standing interest in Tibet, were detained in Dulan County (Haixi Prefecture) on August 15. Their exact whereabouts is not known, but it is believed they are being held by security officials in Qinghai, a traditionally Tibetan ethnic area though it is outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Thus far, neither the Australian or the American government have been able to obtain consular access to the detained men.

Dulan County has been targeted for the voluntary resettlement of 57,750 ethnic minority farmers from a nearby area as part of the broader Bank-funded Western Poverty Reduction Project. When the Bank's board of directors approved a $160 million funding package for the project on June 24, 1999, they received assurances from Chinese authorities that the area would be open to outside visitors at any time, before, during or after the resettlement project was underway and that visitors could have "extensive contacts with the local people, unattended by Chinese officials." Early this month, the Chinese Finance Ministry arranged for a group of foreign journalists to tour the area.

"The World Bank should urge the Chinese government to uphold to its promises to allow free and open access," said Jendrzejczyk. He also urged the U.S. and Australia to demand immediate access to the detainees. "While these two men are held incommunicado, they face increasing risk of torture or ill-treatment," he added.