U.S. Resettles Four Uighur Detainees in Bermuda
The United States has sent to Bermuda four Uighur men who had been held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba despite having been declared no threat to US national security, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.
"These detainees, who were subject to release as a result of court orders, had been cleared for release by the prior administration, which determined they would no longer treat them as enemy combatants," the department said.
"The detainees left Guantanamo Bay today pursuant to an arrangement between the United States and the government of Bermuda."
They are the first Uighur detainees cleared of wrongdoing to be resettled since 2006, when five others were sent to Albania.
"By helping accomplish the president's objective of closing Guantanamo, the transfer of these detainees will make America safer," said Attorney General Eric Holder.
"We are extremely grateful to the government of Bermuda for its assistance in the successful resettlement of these four detainees, and we commend the leadership they have demonstrated on this important issue."
The move came the same day China again demanded all 17 Uighurs being held in Guantanamo Bay, who it calls terror suspects, be returned to China.
The United States should "stop handing over terrorist suspects to any third country," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters, adding the Uighurs should be sent back to China "at an early date."
"China urges the US to implement the UN Security Council's relevant resolutions and its international obligations on counter-terrorism," he said.
The men were living in a self-contained camp in Afghanistan when the US-led invasion of the country began in October 2001, in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
They said they had fled to Afghanistan to escape persecution in their home region of Xinjiang in western China.
The United States cleared the men of wrongdoing four years ago but they remained at the controversial US-run prison camp in Cuba due to fears they would be persecuted if handed to China.
The United States had tried in vain to get Canada, Australia and Germany to take in some of the remaining 17 Uighurs. On Wednesday, the tiny archipelago of Palau announced it had agreed to take them.
Qin said the Uighur detainees were "members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement" -- a group listed by the United Nations and the United States as a terrorist organization.
"East Turkestan" is what many Muslims call Xinjiang, which borders Central Asia and is home to about 8.3 million Uighurs.
Many members of the mainly Muslim community say they have suffered under Chinese political and religious persecution for decades.
In October 2008, a federal judge had ordered the Uighurs released in the United States, but that ruling was overturned on appeal in February.
Obama has promised to close down the detention center by January 2010, and hopes to convince other countries to take in some of the 50 detainees cleared for release.