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China Opposes Detainee Move to Palau

  • Alison Klayman

China opposes the Pacific island nation Palau's offer to take 17 Uighur detainees released from the American facility at Guantanamo. The American military no longer considers them "enemy combatants," but China says they are terrorist suspects and should be returned at the earliest date.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang called on the United States to "stop handing over terrorist suspects to any third country." at a media briefing Thursday.

Spokesman Qin says China opposes any country taking the 17 Uighurs from Guantanamo Bay. He did not specifically mention Palau - the Pacific island nation that accepted the United States' request to take the detainees, Wednesday.

The 17 Chinese Muslims were captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001. They are affiliated with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a separatist group from Western China. The group is on the sanction list of the United Nations Security Council. The United States also listed the group as a terrorist organization in 2002.

Spokesman Qin says China urges the United States to fulfill its "international obligation of counter-terrorism" and return the men to China, as soon as possible.

Although Qin repeatedly called the detainees "terrorist suspects," the Pentagon cleared the 17 men of enemy combatant status. A federal district court even decided the detainees could be released in the United States last October, but an appeals court overturned the ruling.

The United States will not send the Uighers back to China, out of fear they will be persecuted.

Palau officials say the decision to temporarily resettle the men is based on human rights concerns. It comes at the same time as Palau and the United States are discussing the possibility of a $200-million aid package for the remote archipelago.

Palau maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan, not China. The island nation has a population of 20,000 people.

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