The tiny Pacific nation of Palau’s decision to allow 13 Chinese Muslims from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp to resettle there has sparked anger among islanders who fear for the safety of the tranquil tourist haven.
The US government determined last year that the Uighurs were not enemy combatants and should be released from the US military prison in Cuba. China has objected to their resettlement, demanding they be sent home, but the US fears the men would be executed if they were returned to China.
Palau President Johnson Toribiong explained his decision to grant the Uighurs entry as traditional hospitality, but public opinion has appeared overwhelmingly negative. Some complained yesterday that the government failed to consult the people.
“I totally disagree” with allowing the Uighurs onto Palau, Natalia Baulis, a 30-year-old mother of two, said by telephone.
“It’s good to be humanitarian and all, but still these people ... to me are scary,” she said.
Fermin Nariang, editor of the Palau newspaper Island Times, said he had been stopped in the streets of the capital, Koror, by residents venting their anger.
“This is a very small country ... and some are saying if the whole world doesn’t want these folks, why are we taking them?” Nariang said.
The newspaper quoted islander Debedebk Mongami as saying, “I’m also afraid this news is going to scare the tourists who plan to come to Palau.”
Toribiong has denied the move was influenced by any massive aid package from Washington, saying instead that the Uighurs had become “international vagabonds” who deserved a fresh start.
“Palau’s people are always on the side of the US government,” Toribiong said.
He said Palau would send a delegation to Guantanamo to assess the Uighur detainees. It was unclear when this would happen or when the Uighurs would arrive in Palau.
Four other Uighurs were flown from Guananamo Bay to Bermuda for resettlement on Thursday.
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