Page last updated at 16:56 GMT, Thursday, 11 June 2009 17:56 UK

Bermuda takes Guantanamo Uighurs

Uighurs in Guanatamo detention centre (file photograph)
The release of the Uighurs has sparked a trans-Atlantic diplomatic spat

Four Chinese Muslim Uighurs have been released from the US detention centre at Guantanamo and resettled in Bermuda, US officials said.

The four men are part of a group of Chinese nationals handed over to US forces in Afghanistan, but found four years ago not to be "enemy combatants".

But Britain has told Bermuda, a UK overseas territory, it should have consulted London before accepting them.

Beijing has demanded the return of all Uighurs held by the US forces to China.

This week the US said some would be sent to the Pacific island of Palau.

Soon after the four former inmates landed in Bermuda, a chain of islands lying off America's eastern seaboard, US justice department spokesman Dean Boyd said: "We will consult regularly with the government of Bermuda on the status of these individuals."

They will not be allowed to enter the United States without prior permission, US officials said.

The Foreign Office in London expressed its concern at Bermuda's decision to accept the men.

"The Bermuda government consider this to be a matter regarding their day-to-day responsibility for immigration," a statement said.

"We have underlined to the Bermuda government that it should have consulted the UK on whether this falls within their competence or is a foreign affairs or security issue for which the Bermuda Government do not have delegated responsibility."

Torture fears

One of the four, Abdul Nasser, said in a statement released through his lawyer: "Today you have let freedom ring."

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

Five Uighurs who were transferred to Albania in 2006 have not been engaged in criminal or terrorist activities since, the US government said.

China repeated its demand for the return of all Chinese detainees hours before Bermuda accepted the Uighurs.

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

Earlier this week Palau, a former US territory just east of the Philippines, agreed to accept the ethnic Uighurs.

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

More than eight million mainly Muslim Uighurs live in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, a vast area of western China that borders Central Asia.

Beijing says Uighur insurgents are leading an Islamic separatist movement.

China says the Uighurs captured by the US are members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which is on a UN list of terrorist groups.

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

Correspondents say officials are having difficulty finding governments willing to accept the remaining detainees, while at home they face stiff resistance to the idea of Guantanamo detainees on being transferred to US soil.

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