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Georgia and Switzerland take in Guantanamo detainees

Leg shackles used at Guantanamo Bay, January 2009
More than 180 Guantanamo detainees remain in captivity

Three ex-inmates of the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay have been transferred to the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia and two to Switzerland.

US officials gave no details of the three men sent to Georgia but a Georgian minister said they were from the Middle East.

They will be allowed to live freely but may not leave Georgia under the terms of their transfer.

The two men who arrived in Switzerland are both Uighurs from China.

More than 180 inmates remain in America's controversial prison for foreign terrorism suspects in Cuba.

Consultations about the three prisoners transferred to Georgia would continue, said the US justice department. Details of their nationality and history were withheld by US officials for security and privacy reasons.

The Obama administration, which aims to shut down the Guantanamo prison, has struggled to relocate detainees deemed to no longer pose a threat to US interests.

Few of its foreign allies have been willing to accept them and there is strong opposition within America to having them on US soil.

'Helping out'

Georgian interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili confirmed the arrival of the detainees on Tuesday, saying they were from "Middle Eastern countries".

This is in the general scope of our behaviour as a strategic partner
Eka Tkeshelashvili
Georgian National Security Council chief

"They will be free, they will live like normal citizens and they will have permanent contacts with their families," he was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

Georgian National Security Council chief Eka Tkeshelashvili said Tbilisi had agreed to accept the inmates as part of its efforts to build stronger ties with Washington.

"From the beginning when there was a call for co-operation we started negotiations because we wanted to help out," she told AFP.

"This is in the general scope of our behaviour as a strategic partner. We have had the same attitude in connection with our contribution to the mission in Afghanistan."

Georgia is a strong US ally which has troops serving alongside Nato-led forces in Afghanistan. It has been seeking to muster foreign support since its defeat in a brief war with Russia in the summer of 2008 over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

"We are grateful to the government of Georgia for joining their efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay," US state department spokesman Philip Crowley said in Washington.

It is believed to be the first time Georgia has taken in Guantanamo inmates.

According to the Associated Press news agency, at least 80 of the Guantanamo prisoners are expected to be tried in the US or to remain in custody without charge, while more than 100 have been approved for transfer to foreign countries.

Uighur dilemma

Switzerland granted the two Uighurs asylum despite protests from China, which is fighting ethnic Uighur separatism in its Xinjiang region.

Former Guantanamo detainees Khelil Mamut (left) and Salahidin Abdulahat swim off Bermuda, June 2009
Four Uighurs held at Guantanamo were transferred to Bermuda last year

The men, who are brothers and are believed to be aged 45 and 34, arrived in the north-western Swiss canton of Jura.

When Switzerland formally decided to take them in last month, Beijing said that such a move would "surely undermine" relations between the two countries.

The men were among 22 Uighurs seized at a camp in Afghanistan after the US-led coalition bombing campaign began there in 2001, a month after the 9/11 attacks on America.

"The two Uighurs were neither charged with any crime nor condemned by the US authorities," the Swiss government said. "Today they are free again."

Beijing argues the two men are suspected "terrorists" from an Islamist group in Xinjiang and should be repatriated.

Five other Uighurs from Guantanamo were resettled in Albania in 2006, while four were taken in by the British overseas territory of Bermuda and another six by Palau island in October 2009.

Another former Guantanamo detainee, originally from Uzbekistan, has been living in Switzerland since the beginning of the year after being granted asylum.



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