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Thursday, 27 December, 2001, 22:45 GMT
Cuba base to house Afghan prisoners
Taleban prisoners
The US is holding 45 fighters captured in Afghanistan
The US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says Washington is preparing to transfer Taleban and al-Qaeda prisoners to the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.

Correspondents say the plan could anger Cuban President Fidel Castro, who has opposed the US-led war in Afghanistan.

Its disadvantages... seem to be modest relative to the alternatives

Donald Rumsfeld, US Defence Secretary
But Mr Rumsfeld said he was not expecting any objections from Havana.

"We don't anticipate trouble with Mr Castro in that regard," he said.

The defence secretary said the United States had not made a decision as to whether the base would be used for military tribunals to try the prisoners.

The US is currently holding 45 suspected Taleban or al-Qaeda fighters.

Not ready

Eight prisoners are being detained aboard the USS Peleliu in the Gulf of Oman, and another 37 are being held at a detention centre near Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan.

Mr Rumsfeld said Guantanamo base would not be ready to receive the prisoners for a number of weeks.

Guantanamo Bay
Guantanamo Bay 'the least worst place'
He said he believed the facility, which occupies one of Cuba's best natural harbours, was "the least worst place we could have selected. Its disadvantages... seem to be modest relative to the alternatives".

The base was used in the mid-1990s to house thousands of Cuban and Haitian refugees and was considered as a temporary shelter for Kosovo Albanians fleeing the war in the former Yugoslavia in 1999.

The American presence in Guantanamo Bay, on the east of the island, has been a constant bone of contention with the communist regime since the Cuban revolution in 1959.

Mr Castro has described the 116 sq km (45 sq miles) base, which was leased to America under a treaty in 1903, as a "dagger pointed at Cuba's heart".

See also:

21 Dec 01 | South Asia
US holds thousands in Afghanistan
01 Jan 99 | Americas
America's slice of Cuba
19 Dec 01 | South Asia
FBI probes prisoners for clues
20 Dec 01 | South Asia
Pakistan holds senior Taleban official
12 Dec 01 | South Asia
Red Cross probes Taleban deaths
01 Dec 01 | South Asia
Calls mount for Afghan fort inquiry
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