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Page last updated at 10:15 GMT, Thursday, 11 June 2009 11:15 UK

China demands US return Uighurs

Uighurs in Guanatamo detention centre (file photograph)
The Uighurs at Guantanamo have been declared not to be enemy combatants

China has demanded the return of 17 Chinese Muslim Uighur detainees held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay.

America should "stop handing over terrorist suspects to any third country," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.

Palau, a former US Pacific territory which does not recognise China, has agreed to accept the ethnic Uighurs.

US President Barack Obama has ordered the Guantanamo detention centre closed by early next year.

Some 22 Uighurs were captured by United States forces during their invasion of Afghanistan and taken to the detention base in Cuba but were found not to be enemy combatants four years ago.

Albania re-settled five of them in 2006 but, correspondents say, fear of Chinese retaliation has prevented Tirana from further cooperation.

CHINA'S UIGHURS
Map
Ethnically Turkic Muslims, mainly in Xinjiang
Made bid for independent state in 1940s
Sporadic violence in Xinjiang since 1991
Uighurs worried about Chinese immigration and erosion of traditional culture

The US has been reluctant to send the Uighurs back to China for fear they will be tortured or executed.

There are more than eight million Uighurs living in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, a vast area of western China that borders Central Asia.

Correspondents say many members of the mainly Muslim community say they suffer Chinese political and religious persecution.

Beijing says Uighur insurgents are leading an Islamic separatist movement.

China says the 17 due to be sent from Guantanamo to Palau are members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which is on the United Nations list of terrorist groups.

"China urges the US to implement the UN Security Council's relevant resolutions and its international obligations on counter-terrorism," Mr Qin said.

'Humanitarian'

US officials asked Palau President Johnson Toribiong on 4 June to accept some or all of the remaining 17 Uighur detainees due to strong US congressional opposition to releasing them on US soil.

Mr Toribiong said his government had "agreed to accommodate the United States of America's request to temporarily resettle in Palau up to 17 ethnic Uighur detainees ... subject to periodic review."

US military guards escort a Guantanamo detainee (6 December 2006)
The US has 50 to 60 detainees whom it has been unable to repatriate

In a statement, he said his tiny country is "honoured and proud" to resettle the detainees, who have been found not to be "enemy combatants".

He said the agreement was a "humanitarian gesture", which had nothing to do with the upcoming review of the Compact of Free Association, under which the US gives large sums to Palau.

Palau, with a population of about 20,000, is an archipelago of eight main islands plus more than 250 islets located some 800 km (500 miles) east of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean.

Palau has retained close ties with the United States since independence in 1994 when it signed the Free Compact of Association with the US. It relies heavily on the US for aid and defence.



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