Up to nine Chinese Muslims held in Guantanamo Bay for the past seven years will be moved to the remote Pacific territory of Palau by the end of the year, Palauan President Johnson Toribiong has confirmed.
Residents in the archipelago have expressed unease at having the Uighurs in their midst and Beijing has demanded they be sent back to China, but Toribiong said he was in the process of finalizing an agreement with the US.
Between four and nine of the remaining 13 Uighurs at Guantanamo will likely be transferred to Palau “before January of next year,” he said on Saturday.
A lawyer representing the Uighurs said they could be transferred as soon as late this month or early next month.
Toribiong said Palau would accept the Uighurs as a “humanitarian gesture” and to strengthen ties with the US.
The detainees were among 22 Uighurs living in a self-contained camp in Afghanistan when the US-led invasion of the country began in October 2001, in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks that year.
They said they had fled to Afghanistan to escape persecution in their vast home region of Xinjiang in western China.
They were cleared of any wrongdoing four years ago and have been in legal limbo ever since, with the US declining to return them to China, fearing they could be tortured.
Four of the Chinese Muslims were flown from the Guantanamo prison camp in Cuba to Bermuda in June. Another five were released to Albania in 2006.
US President Barack Obama has promised to shut down Guantanamo by January and Washington has been pushing for other countries to accept inmates with no charges against them.