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Europeans in Dilemma Over Guantanamo Prison Closing

President Barack Obama's order to close down the terror detention facility at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba may put Europe in a dilemma. After years of criticizing the camp, European countries must now consider whether to take in ex-inmates - a prospect that may present legal and security challenges.

European countries have largely hailed U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention camp within a year.

Now comes the hard part. Will any of the countries take in ex-Guantanamo inmates? To be sure, Washington must first make that request - and experts suggest that would not come before months of negotiations.

While it is not known where the detainees will go when the camp closes, Obama administration officials say no terror suspects will be sent to third countries that employ torture.

Several European countries, including Switzerland, Ireland and Portugal have signaled they would be willing to accept Guantanamo detainees. Britain has also suggested it would consider the idea, as has France.

In an interview this week on French radio, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said France would consider taking terror suspects into France on a case-by-case basis. But he said, Guantanamo must first be shut - and its inmates must request to be sent to France. So far, he said, only one detainee has done so.

Other European countries, including the Netherlands and Denmark, appear much more reluctant to take in detainees. In the case of Germany, the question has divided the government, with the country's foreign minister suggesting Germany could take 20 ex-prisoners, but its interior minister ruled out the prospect.

"The Europeans have been nagging the United States to close Guantanamo for ages," said Bob Ayers, a London-based analyst on international security issues. "And now the United States is actually thinking about doing it, those same Europeans that have been critical of the U.S. are now very reluctant to take these people into their own countries."

Analysts estimate that of the roughly 250 or so remaining detainees in Guantanamo, several dozen would be eligible to go to Europe - that is, those judged not to be a threat or where there is insufficient evidence to try them.

Experts say that if some ex-detainees went to Europe, they would likely be released and ostensibly allowed to pursue normal lives. But, says Anthony Dworkin, a human rights and justice analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London, European governments may balk at their potential security risk.

Others may face legal challenges. Denmark, for example, would have to change its asylum laws to accept detainees. But, Dworkin says, Europe also wants to get off on the right foot with the new administration in Washington.

"Europe is trying to send out a positive signal to the incoming administration, but ... they will need to hear a bit more before they go ahead with any agreement," Dworkin said. "And in particular, it would have to be part of a wider plan for ending what the Europeans see is the unjust regime (set of rules) they believe the Bush administration put in place."

Analyst Ayers, for one, is skeptical Europe will ultimately take in many detainees.

"I think there will probably be a handful of European countries that will take one, two or three detainees," Ayers said. "That order of magnitude. The majority of them are not going to be taken."

European foreign ministers are expected to discuss the issue at their next meeting on January 26.