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Page last updated at 22:57 GMT, Friday, 12 June 2009 23:57 UK

US 'kept Guantanamo deal from UK'

In a photo released by a lawyer for the detainees on Friday, the four Guantanamo Bay ethnic Uighur detainees (right) are shown accompanied by unidentified people upon their arrival in Hamilton, Bermuda, on Thursday
The US made a secret deal with Bermuda - a British overseas territory - to accept the Uighur detainees

A senior US official has told the BBC Washington decided not to tell London beforehand about a deal to resettle four Guantanamo detainees in Bermuda.

A diplomatic row blew up over Bermuda's decision to accept the four Chinese Muslim Uighurs on a US request.

Bermuda is a British overseas territory but the US official said Washington had acted secretly to ensure success.

Meanwhile the US said on Friday three Saudis at Guantanamo Bay had been transferred back to Saudi Arabia.

The transfers are part of US President Barack Obama's strategy to close down the Guantanamo detention centre before next January.

Hostility

The unnamed senior official also told the BBC that Washington was attempting to shield the UK from Chinese anger.

Beijing has demanded the return to China of all 17 Uighurs held by US forces but Washington says they could face persecution in China.

Uighurs in Guanatamo detention centre (file photograph)
The US has faced a conundrum of what to do with the Uighurs

Most of the Guantanamo detainees have not been convicted of any crime and yet the US fears they may face persecution or torture if they are repatriated. Meanwhile many Americans regard them with hostility.

It was revealed earlier in the week that the tiny Pacific island of Palau had agreed to take some of the 17 Chinese Uighurs at the camp.

But the four remaining, it later emerged, had been accepted by the Bermuda government. They arrived in Bermuda on Thursday.

Pressed on whether the US had told the British government, an unnamed state department official was quoted as saying: "We did talk to them before the Uighurs got on the plane."

We have underlined to the Bermuda government that it should have consulted the UK on whether this falls within their competence
British Foreign Office

Now a senior US official has told the BBC it was a deliberate decision not to consult London on the resettlement, after other countries came under pressure from China not to accept the Uighurs.

In a highly unusual move, a senior US official said Washington opted to keep details of the deal from London until the last minute to enable Britain to deny all knowledge of the deal and thus avoid China's anger, says the BBC's Washington correspondent Kim Ghattas.

The official said they expected London to be upset but added he felt the deal was made on solid ground, in direct talks with the Bermuda government, who accepted the men as part of guest worker programme.

Bermuda blamed

Britain, meanwhile, has expressed anger that it was not consulted, saying in a Foreign Office statement: "The Bermuda government consider this to be a matter regarding their day-to-day responsibility for immigration.

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

"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."

For the time being London has reserved its expressions of ire for Bermuda, with a spokesman for the UK prime minister insisting Bermuda bore "the primary responsibility for ensuring that the constitutional requirements on the Bermudan government were adhered to".

Britain is supposed to handle Bermuda's defence, security and foreign affairs, but it delegates the authority to make decisions on immigration to Bermuda.

The Foreign Office said it would "also be looking at the operation of the 'General Entrustment' which gives Bermuda the authority to conduct certain external relations on our behalf".

Britain is also now helping Bermuda carry out a security assessment of the resettled detainees.

But the US official pointed out that the Uighurs were cleared four years ago of any wrongdoing.

On Friday, the US justice department said three Saudis - Khalid Saad Mohammed, Abdalaziz Kareem Salim al-Noofayaee and Ahmed Zaid Salim Zuhair had been approved for transfer back to Saudi Arabia.

It said they had been cleared by the previous administration and would undergo a "rehabilitation programme" in Saudi Arabia.



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