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07-02-09, 13:04
By Steven Edwards, Canwest News Service
February 6, 2009

NEW YORK — The German city of Munich added its name Friday to communities offering to welcome members of the Chinese minority Uyghur group detained at Guantanamo Bay — presenting possible alternatives to Canada as activists press Ottawa to accept at least three.
Home to the biggest Uyghur community outside China, Munich said it will accept all 17 Uyghurs who remain at the U.S. naval base in Cuba among some 240 detainees overall.
Seventeen families in the Washington, D.C., area have long said they will take the Muslim men in, while an interfaith group in Tallahassee, Fla., has said it can help three settle.
Human rights groups in Canada pushing the Canadian government to step forward say Ottawa still needs to act.
“For these 17 Uyghurs, maybe the generous Munich offer will be realized, but if there is also an option for some of those 17 to come to Canada, why should they not get the opportunity to make that choice?” said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees.
The Uyghurs are somewhat of an exceptional case in that the 17 are the only remaining Guantanamo detainees who have been totally cleared by the U.S. authorities of having terrorist links.
But the United States fears they may face torture or other abuse if returned to China, which does consider them terrorists who seek an independent Muslim homeland in the northwestern part of the country.
A senior Ottawa official said Friday there were “no plans” for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to issue special entry permits for the three Uyghur detainees, who seek settlement in Canada as sponsored refugees under the regular administrative process — which may or may not pan out.
Other officials outlined wider security concerns.
“We’re worried that those backing entry to Canada for the Uyghurs would try to use any success in that endeavour to press for entry of detainees Canada considers far more dangerous, such as those with a history of ties to the al-Qaida network,” one said.
Dench said the list of names of detainees that groups in Canada have applied to sponsor as refugees will be announced Tuesday by her group and the sponsors, who include churches and other organizations.
“We’re concerned about all of those in Guantanamo who cannot return safely to their home countries,” she said, putting the number at about 60.
She said Canada would be asked to accept just some.
Beyond any security concerns, there remains the possibility that settling Guantanamo Uyghurs will lead to friction with China, whose embassy in Ottawa Friday issued a statement calling on governments to reject the “Chinese terrorist suspects.”
The ethnic Uyghur prisoners are members of the outlawed East Turkistan Islamic Movement, a terrorist organization officially censured by the United Nations Security Council, the statement, addressed to Canwest News Service, pointed out.
“These suspects should be handed over to China,” it continued. “We are opposed to any country accepting those suspects. It is believed that the Canadian side will properly handle this issue according to international laws and regulations.”
None of the various community offers to settle the Uyghurs is valid without approvals of the respective national governments or immigration authorities. However, they reflect a growing interest in this group regardless of whether any of its members are able to enter Canada.
“I would think that there would be competition to resettle them,” said George Clarke, a Washington-based lawyer for Anvar (Ali) Hassan, one of the three Uyghurs in Guantanamo whose application to settle in Canada has been filed.
While in Germany there is some disagreement within the coalition government over accepting any detainees, Clarke said the bigger question is what will the new administration of U.S. President Barack Obama decide in the wake of the president’s decision shortly after his inauguration to close the Guantanamo camps within a year.
“They can’t make other countries take them, but they (the U.S.) can take them,” he said.
With files from Janice Tibbetts