The US yesterday appeared to reject a demand by China that all Chinese prisoners at Guantanamo Bay be handed back following US President Barack Obama’s decision to close the “war on terror” jail.
Beijing had called for the return of 17 Chinese prisoners that it said were part of a terror group seeking an independent homeland in the northwest of the country.
“These people are members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement [ETIM] terrorist organization on a sanctioned list of the UN Security Council,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu (姜瑜) told reporters. “They should be handed over to China, which will handle the case by law.”
Obama signed an executive order on Thursday calling for the closure of Guantanamo Bay within a year, in a reversal of the policy of his predecessor George W. Bush.
But his administration yesterday said it could not imagine returning the detainees, from Xinjiang, home to 8.3 million Uighurs, a Muslim minority speaking a Turkic language.
Xinjiang is a vast area of mountains and deserts that borders Central Asia, and many of its Uighur population say they have suffered decades of repression under communist rule.
Uighur dissidents and some human rights groups have said China has exaggerated the threat from ETIM and other alleged terrorists in Xinjiang to justify a harsh security crackdown there.
“I cannot imagine that we would support transferring the Uighurs back to China,” a senior Obama administration official said on condition of anonymity.
“We are not going to transfer detainees to countries that will mistreat them,” the official said.
Jiang reiterated China’s opposition to other nations taking in Chinese Guantanamo Bay prisoners, after some European governments indicated their willingness to resettle detainees if the US closed the prison.
“China is against any country accepting those people and they should be returned to China as soon as possible,” she said.
In 2006, Albania granted asylum to five Chinese Uighurs after they were released from Guantanamo, much to the anger of China.