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24-08-05, 11:20

US camp holds 'homeless' Chinese

Concern is growing in the US for 15 Chinese Muslims who are being held at Guantanamo Bay despite apparently being cleared for release two years ago.

Lawyers for the men, Uighurs from western China, are calling for their release after reports of mistreatment.

Washington has not sent them home for fear they might be persecuted, but will not let them into the US either.

The US state department told the Washington Post newspaper it was still working to find a home for the Uighurs.

About 20 other countries have refused to give the men asylum.

Ten of the men are said to be low-risk detainees who see the Chinese and not the US government as their main enemy.

The other five simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and were picked up by Pakistani bounty hunters, the newspaper said.

Seven Uighur men ruled to be enemy combatants will continue to be held at the US military base in Cuba.

'Fighting back'

Beijing has frequently cracked down on Uighur dissidents seeking autonomy in the country's north-western Xinjiang province.

They clearly were keeping secret that these men were acquitted - they were found not to be al-Qaeda and not to be Taleban
Sabin Willett
The Chinese government accuses Uighur militants of waging a bombing and assassination campaign, and receiving training at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.

Details about the men are sketchy, and most facts in the case are classified secrets.

However, two of them are known to have fled China in 2001, travelling to Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and then Afghanistan, where they were trained in the use of small arms.

One detainee is quoted as saying at the US tribunal that acquitted him that he went to Afghanistan to escape torture and get training to fight back against the government.

US officials quoted by the Washington Post said the men had been cleared for release twice - in late 2003 and March 2005.

Leg shackle

But Sabin Willett, a Boston lawyer who is representing several of the Uighurs, said the fact of their acquittal was not revealed to the men for several months.

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
"They clearly were keeping secret that these men were acquitted," he said, quoted by the Washington Post.

"They were found not to be al-Qaeda and not to be Taleban. But the government still refused to provide a transcript of the tribunal that acquitted them to the detainees, their new lawyers or a US court."

Mr Willett also told a hearing earlier this month that during detention at least one of his clients was forced to wear a leg shackle chained to a bolt in the floor.

Responding to the charges, the US justice department told the newspaper it was not obliged to release the prisoners because of "wind-up power", which gives governments time after the end of a conflict to decide what to do with its detainees.

But lawyers say that according to this rule the men should be released, citing the case of Italian POWs in the US after Rome's World War II surrender in 1943.

Fighting continued in Italy, and the former prisoners were allowed out of their camp in Massachusetts to mix with the local community.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/08/24 14:45:33 GMT