Some of the Uighurs still detained at Guantanamo Bay have overcome reservations about being sent to Palau and a final deal on their relocation is close, a lawyer for two of them said yesterday.
The Uighur detainees met with US State Department officials on Monday and told the diplomats they were willing to move to Palau, said lawyer George Clarke, who took part in the talks.
Clarke said by telephone that “more than four and less than all” of the 13 Uighurs had agreed to go, overcoming previous fears that the tiny island country would not be able to protect them from China, which considers them separatists.
Once a deal is struck, it is expected to take weeks to organize the Uighurs’ transfer.
Palau in June offered to take the 13 detainees — a major step toward the Obama administration’s goal of finding new homes for terrorist suspects and prisoners captured during the Afghan war who have been cleared of wrongdoing but cannot go home for fear of ill-treatment.
Palauan President Johnson Toribiong said in June that some of the men were hesitant because of concerns about China, which has demanded they be sent home for trial.
US officials have said the men could be executed in China and have refused to send them there.
The 13 Uighurs have been held by the US since their capture in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001.
The Pentagon determined last year that they were not “enemy combatants,” but they have been in legal limbo ever since.
The US has described a lack of resettlement options for dozens of inmates who can’t be returned to their homelands as an obstacle to emptying the Guantanamo prison.
Mark Bezner, the top American official in Palau, confirmed the State Department was putting together a document spelling out the terms of the Uighurs’ stay in Palau.
“I expect to have it soon,” he said. “We’ll be discussing it with the Palauans and then it can be relayed to the Uighurs’ attorneys.”
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