Guantanamo Uighurs arrive in Palau
Former detainees of US camp temporarily resettled in Pacific island nation.
Last Modified: 01 Nov 2009 19:39 GMT

The US has resettled six Chinese Muslim Uighurs held at Guantanamo Bay on the Pacific island nation of Palau.

The group arrived on the island, which agreed to a request from Washington to resettle them, on Sunday after being held for seven years at the US prison in Cuba.

Johnson Toribiong, the president of Palau, met the ex-prisoners at the airport in the middle of the night before they were taken to central Koror, where most islanders live.

"They appeared to be very happy," Toribiong said.

"They smiled, they thanked me, they called me brother. It's amazing. I feel really good about it."

The Turkic-Uighurs had been held in Guantanamo Bay despite being cleared of all charges. Under former president George Bush it was declared that they were no longer considered "enemy combatants", a term that allowed the US government to hold detainees without bringing charges.

'Rebuild lives'

The group has been in legal limbo since Barack Obama became president, as his administration sought nations to take them.

"These men want nothing more than to live peaceful, productive lives in a free, democratic nation safe from oppression by the Chinese"

Eric Tirschwell,
detainee lawyer

Obama has stated his intention to close the jail by January 2010.

New York lawyers for the men said that they were ready "to begin rebuilding their lives in freedom".

"These men want nothing more than to live peaceful, productive lives in a free, democratic nation safe from oppression by the Chinese," Eric Tirschwell, one of their lawyers, said.

"Thanks to Palau, which has graciously offered them a temporary home, they now have that chance. We hope that another country will soon step forward to provide them permanent sanctuary."

Toribiong said that the group could remain on the island "a few months or a few years".

The US justice department named the men as Ahmad Tourson, Abdul Ghappar Abdul, Rahman, Edham Mamet, Anwar Hassan, Dawut Abdurehim and Adel Noori.

Community integration

Toribiong said that Palau, which has a population of 20,000, will be give medical care and education to integrate the men into the community.

"The Uighurs will be taught conversational and written English, educated about the culture and laws of Palau, and instructed in skills that will enable them to find a job and earn a living," he said.

There were 22 Uighurs - from the Xinjiang region of China that borders Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia - in Guantanamo, of which one remains. He was not provided resettlement by Palau due to concerns over his mental health.

They have not been able to return to China due to fears that they would suffer repression at the hands of the Chinese government.

Beijing has said that an Islamist separatist movement is taking place in Xinjiang and wants the men returned.

The Uighurs were captured by US forces in Afghanistan, where they said they had fled to escape persecution in China.

About 215 prisoners remain at Guantanamo Bay, which was opened after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.

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