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China protests over Uighur transfer

El Jazeera 03 25 2010
The men were among 17 Uighurs held at the Guantanamo prison camp in Cuba

The transfer of two ethnic Uighurs from the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay to Switzerland has triggered an angry reaction from China.

The two men, who are brothers, were recently resettled in Switzerland after spending eight years in the Guantanamo camp, the US justice department announced on Wednesday.

Beijing has demanded that all Uighurs held at Guantanamo be returned to China, saying they are suspected terrorists.

"We resolutely oppose the United States sheltering the suspects in a third country, and oppose any country taking them in in any way," Qin Gang, spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, told reporters in Beijing on Thursday.

"We have sent our strong representations to the related countries," he said.

The two men were among a total of 17 Uighurs captured by US forces in Afghanistan in the invasion that followed the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

No threat

The men said they were sheltering from repression by Chinese authorities in their home region of Xinjiang and the US government has since acknowledged that none of the Uighurs pose a security threat.

But officials say they cannot return the men to China because they may face persecution or even possibly execution by Chinese authorities.

As a result they have been stuck in legal limbo while US authorities try to find third countries willing to take the men in.

Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking Muslim people native to China's far western region of Xinjiang, many of whom complain of repression at the hands of Chinese authorities.

Last year Xinjiang's regional capital, Urumqi, was rocked by ethnic clashes between Uighurs and China's majority Han Chinese, in which at least 200 people died.

The recent transfer of the two brothers to Switzerland means there are now five Uighurs left at the Guantanamo camp.

Four others were resettled in Bermuda while Albania took five, and six went to the Pacific island of Palau, which has also offered to take the remaining five.

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