Fresh hopes for their early release were rekindled after a US diplomat was reported in newspapers as saying the suspects being held without trial could be repatriated if Britain is able to 'manage' them after their return.

"We are prepared to arrange their transfer home for detention or prosecution or other actions depending on individual circumstances," US ambassador at Large for War Crimes Pierre-Richard Prosper told a small US Embassy briefing.

The official however said there were no plans to return Moazzam Begg and Faroz Abassi, whom the US authorities consider as high risk.

Newspapers interpreted his comments as a hint the Britons could be home within weeks.

Official denial

But the UK Foreign Office clarified no deal was imminent. "When we have got something to say, we will say it. We need to be patient," a spokesman said.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman was reticent as well, saying the Britons' fate was a matter for the prosecuting authorities.

One government source tempered the fresh expectations, saying a final agreement on the fate of the detained Britons could be weeks or months away.

"We are prepared to arrange their transfer home for detention or prosecution or other actions depending on individual circumstances"

Pierre-Richard Prosper
US ambassador at Large for War Crimes

A lawyer acting for the mother of the detained Abassi said it appeared the US was keen for a quick deal, but the UK government was blocking it.

"I am worried that the Home Secretary is standing in the way of them being brought back here," solicitor Louise Christian said.

The nine Britons are among 660 detainees being held without charge at the US naval base in Cuba following the Afghanistan war in 2001.

They had been detained on suspicion of having links with Usama bin Ladin's al-Qaida network.

Their treatment has appalled human rights groups and earned the US global condemnation.

Azmat Begg, the father of detainee Moazzam Begg said he was "shocked" that the fate of his son and hundreds of others was unclear after nearly two years.