Uyghur group hails European moves to take Gitmo detainees

WASHINGTON, Dec 23, 2008 (AFP) - The Uyghur American Association welcomed Tuesday indications that European governments were willing to resettle Guantanamo Bay detainees if the US closed the military prison.

A Guantanamo prison

UAA also said it was "thankful" to President-elect Barack Obama for his pledge to close the notorious "war on terror" detention facility.

"UAA urges the incoming administration to prioritize the resettlement of the 17 Uyghur detainees at Guantanamo, and ensure that they are resettled in the United States or another democratic, Western nation," the group said in a statement.

A Muslim minority speaking a Turkic language, Uyghurs say they have suffered decades of repression under communist rule.

UAA pointed to Germany and Portugal, whose foreign minister, Luis Amado, called on his European Union counterparts earlier this month to help the United States close the detention facility by taking in detainees from third countries.

"Germany has been very generous in granting political asylum to Uyghur human rights activists fleeing Chinese persecution over the past decade," said the group, adding that Germany's recent moves "will likely help advance the release of the Guantanamo Uyghurs."

China said Tuesday it opposed any country taking in the 17 Uyghurs held at Guantanamo since 2002.

"The Chinese government always urges these prisoners be repatriated back to China," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters, calling the Uyghur inmates "Chinese terrorists."

"We oppose any countries taking these prisoners."

Reacting to Qin's comments, UAA said it "urges the United States and European nations not to repatriate any of the Guantanamo Uyghurs to the People's Republic of China."

The group said China's "assurances regarding treatment of the Guantanamo Uyghurs cannot be taken seriously, as torture is rampant in Chinese prisons."

"Now, rather than facing certain torture and possible execution upon their return to (China), these men will be able to live in free and democratic societies," UAA president Rebiya Kadeer said in a statement.

"I am thankful to the incoming Obama administration and European nations who have brought the release of the Uyghurs closer to reality."

The Bush administration has already returned some 500 Guantanamo detainees to their countries, but continues to hold about 250, including a number of senior Al-Qaeda militants who have admitted roles in planning the September 2001 attacks on the United States.

Several dozen of the remaining prisoners have been cleared for release by the US military, including the 17 Uyghurs, but a major hold-up to their release has been fear of persecution if returned to their home countries.

Source: AFP

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