Thursday, June 11, 2009

4 Chinese Muslims shifted from Guantanamo to Bermuda

Four Guantanamo Bay detainees have been released and resettled in Bermuda, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The four are part of a group of 17 Chinese Muslims who have been in legal limbo at the military detention center in Cuba.

Abdul Nasser, one of the four detainees who landed in Bermuda early Thursday morning, issued a statement through his lawyers, saying: "Growing up under communism we always dreamed of living in peace and working in free society like this one. Today you have let freedom ring."

It's the first time since 2006 that the U.S. has successfully resettled any of Guantanamo's population of Uighurs (WEE'-gurs), whose fate has been wending through the courts for years. The U.S. government had determined that they weren't enemy combatants and should be released. But China resisted their release, contending they were part of a Chinese separatist movement, and it had been unclear where they would go free.

The Uighur detainees are from a Chinese region that borders several Central Asian nations, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, where they were captured in 2001. Thirteen other Uighurs remain to be freed from Guantanamo.

The Justice Department on Thursday issued a statement thanking the government of Bermuda for helping resettle four of the detainees. Arrangements are being made for other Uighurs to be sent to the Pacific island nation of Palau.

The Uighurs' lawyers said they will be part of Bermuda's guest worker program.

U.S. officials did not say what restrictions, if any, would be placed on the Uighurs as they are resettled inBermuda.

"We will consult regularly with the government of Bermuda on the status of these individuals," said Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss negotiations between the two nations, said the four would not be allowed to travel to the United States without prior approval from American authorities.

The departure of the four detainees for Bermuda — a British territory — leaves 234 detainees remaining at Guantanamo, and comes in a busy week at the military base in Cuba.

On Tuesday morning, authorities brought detainee Ahmed Ghailani to New York to face trial in civilian court for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa. And the president of Palau said his nation will take some Uighurs.

The Uighurs are a unique group among the Guantanamo detainees. A federal judge ordered last year that they be released in the United States, but an appeals court overruled that decision. U.S. officials would not return them to China out of concerns they would be tortured or executed.

Albania accepted five Uighurs from Guantanamo in 2006, but declined to take more. Many nations have said no to receiving the Uighurs, out of concerns that doing so would anger the Chinese government.

Uighurs are from Xinjiang, an isolated region that borders Afghanistan, Pakistan and six Central Asian nations. They say they have been repressed by the Chinese government. China long has said that insurgents are leading an Islamic separatist movement in Xinjiang.

At one point, officials had considered bringing some of the Uighurs to Virginia, but the possibility provoked intense opposition in Congress, and the plan was shelved.

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