WASHINGTON: The Pentagon said Thursday it had transferred two Guantanamo detainees from China’s Uighur minority to El Salvador after they were held without charge since 2002.
The men are among 22 Uighurs arrested at a camp in the mountains of Afghanistan after the US-led coalition bombing campaign began there in 2001, a month after the September 11 attacks on the United States. Three more now remain at the US naval base in southern Cuba.
The Uighurs — members of a largely Muslim people who have long accused China of discrimination — were cleared years ago of wrongdoing and had been staying in a special part of the prison with a library and recreational space.
“These detainees were subject to release from Guantanamo as a result of a court order issued on October 7, 2008 by the US District Court for the District of Columbia, and are voluntarily resettling in El Salvador,” the US Defence Department said in a statement.
“The United States coordinated with the government of El Salvador to ensure the transfer took place in accordance with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.”
In principle, Washington would send cleared inmates to their home country. But it has refused Beijing’s demands to repatriate the Uighurs, saying they would face almost certain persecution.
Uighurs hail from China’s western Xinjiang region, which in 2009, witnessed some of the country’s deadliest ethnic violence in years.
Many Uighurs bristle at what they see as cultural and religious persecution at the hands of China, which has sent in settlers from the country’s Han majority. Beijing argues that it has spurred development in the arid region.
After this latest transfer, 169 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay.