Up to 17 ethnic Uighur Muslims are to be transferred from Guantánamo Bay to
the tiny North Pacific island of Palau. The United States has struck the
deal to avoid repatriating the inmates to China, where it is feared they
could be persecuted or executed.
The Chinese government, which has demanded their return, accuses some Uighurs
of leading an Islamist separatist movement in far western China, and Beijing
has pressured countries to reject any pleas for asylum.
In what he called a humanitarian gesture, Johnson Toribiong, the President of
Palau, told Associated Press today that his Government — which has ties with
Taiwan rather than China — agreed to accommodate the American request to
temporarily resettle the Uighur detainees "subject to period review".
China's Foreign Ministry did not react immediately to the news.
Palau — a group of eight main islands 500 miles east of the Philippines that
are home to 20,000 people and multiple scuba diving companies — is taking 50
prisoners for resettlement from the Guantánamo camp in Cuba.
President Obama has vowed to close the camp since taking office in January but
has faced fierce bipartisan opposition in Congress to the detainees being
resettled inside the United States.
American officials who declined to be named said that Washington was prepared
to give Palau up to $200 million (£122 million) in long-term development aid
in return for accepting the Uighurs and as part of a defence and
co-operation treaty that is due to be renegotiated this year.
Palau, a US territory until independence in 1994, relies on Washington for its
The Guantánamo Uighurs, who were captured in Afghanistan in 2001, have lived
with uncertainty for nearly a year, since a US federal district court
ordered their release into the United States only for that ruling to be
overturned on appeal.
The Bush Administration did not view the Uighurs as enemy combatants, a status
assigned to many of the Guantánamo detainees.
For months, the US was unable to persuade any of about 100 governments to
grant asylum, including Australia and Germany, which both have significant
In 2006, Albania accepted five Uighur detainees from Guantánamo but has balked
at taking others, partly for fear of diplomatic repercussions from China.