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17 Chinese Muslims to settle temporarily in Palau

By Bernadette H. Carreon

KOROR, Palau (Palau Horizon, June 10, 2009) — Seventeen Chinese Muslim detainees held at Guantanamo Bay will be settled temporarily in Palau

President Johnson Toribiong said Palau’s decision to accept the temporary resettlement of the detainees "is a humanitarian gesture intended to help them be freed from any further unnecessary incarceration and to restart their lives anew in a normal fashion."

But he said it is still not known whether the detainees will be brought to Palau.

He said his decision has nothing to do with the upcoming review of the Compact’s financial provisions, which Palau wants extended.

[PIR editor’s note: According to the Associate Press, the U.S. "is prepared to give Palau up to $200 million in aid to accept the Uighurs."]

In a letter to Toribiong, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said Palau shares with the U.S. its "commitment to humanitarian values."

"We believe that Palau may be in good position to consider positively our request for assistance with the critical task of resettling certain detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay," Clinton said.

Last week, Toribiong met with U.S. special envoy Dan Fried and his delegation to discuss the issue.

The detainees, ethnic Uighurs from the mostly Muslim autonomous region in western China, have been in U.S. custody since 2001.

They fled Afghanistan soon after the U.S.-led bombing campaign began that year, and Pakistani authorities turned them over to the U.S. military.

The U.S. said the 17 had engaged in weapons training at a Taliban military training camp in Afghanistan.

In 2004, the U.S. determined that the 17 Uighurs were not enemy combatants, but it kept them at Guantanamo while trying to persuade other countries to resettle them.

Last October, CNN quoted U.S. officials as saying that the detainees were not returned to China because of credible fears they could be persecuted if returned.

U.S. government lawyers said the law forbids the detainees’ entry into the United States, but efforts to find another nation willing to accept them had been unsuccessful, the CNN report stated.

Toribiong said these detainees are no longer considered enemy combatants.

"Palau’s decision is consistent with its age-old cultural tradition of accommodating and helping people in need…and is a recognition of Palau’s longstanding and strong relationship with the U.S.," Toribiong said.

The president said he has authorized State Minister Sandra Pierantozzi, Health Minister Stevenson Kuartei and Palau Community College President Patrick Tellei to travel to Guantanamo Bay to verify the status of the detainees.

The president said providing the detainees with temporary resettlement will not pose any security problems.

He said his decision was made in consultation with the community.

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