There has been strong reaction from governments and human rights groups to the suicides of three prisoners at the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay.

A senior US government official described the suicides of the Yemeni man and two Saudis as a 'publicity stunt'.

Colleen Graffy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, said the men's deaths were aimed at focusing attention on their own agenda.

The commanding officer at Guantanamo Bay said the suicides amounted to an act of war, waged against the United States. 

Zachary Katznelson, of the human rights organisation Reprieve, said the deaths came about not through a co-ordinated plan but because of hopelessness.

Reprieve represents 36 people held in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Britain, Germany and Denmark have also joined rights groups in condemning the treatment of detainees.

The deaths, which came amid a prisoner hunger strike, were the first fatalities after a total of 41 suicide attempts by inmates in the camp.

The number of prisoners now on hunger strike at Guantanamo has fallen to 18, from a peak of 89. Prisoners on hunger strike have been force fed by authorities at the facility.

Some 460 prisoners are being held at the prison. Only ten have been formally charged since the camp opened in early 2002.

The US Supreme Court is expected to rule later this month on the legitimacy of special military tribunals set up to try those charged with war crimes, and to clarify what rights the prisoners have in US courts.