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Reuters
08-05-06, 17:38
08 May 2006 13:30:47 GMT
Source: Reuters
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TIRANA, May 8 (Reuters) - Albania said on Monday it was processing an asylum application from five Chinese Muslims released from Guantanamo Bay prison and denied press reports that they were being held at a military facility.

"Albania has accepted their request for asylum. Right now, the legal procedures for their request are taking their due course," foreign ministry spokeswoman Desada Metaj told Reuters.

A law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the location of the five would remain secret. He could not say how long the asylum process would take.

"It's simply not true," the official said when asked about a newspaper report that the five were being kept at a secure army facility near Tirana.

The Uighur Chinese arrived in Albania by charter plane on Friday. The United States, which held the five in Guantanamo for up to four years without charge or trial, said it would not fly them back to China because they might face persecution there.

Ethnic Uighurs come from Xinjiang in far western China. Many Muslim Uighurs seek greater autonomy and some want independence from China. Beijing has waged a relentless campaign against what it calls the violent separatist activities of the Uighurs.

A U.S. embassy public affairs officer in Tirana, Roxanne Cabral, said the decision to deport them to Albania "was made after they were determined to be no longer a threat" to the United States. "The Uighurs' preference was a European country. Albania generously offered to take them," she told Reuters.

Barbara Olshansky, a lawyer for the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights representing two of the men, said on Friday that Washington moved them to Albania "to avoid having to answer in court for keeping innocent men in jail."

"We had no idea they were going to Albania. We didn't have any time to get anything on the ground to assist them with resettlement or to find out about whether they are trying to send them into some kind of detention," Olshansky said.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on April 20 said the United States should "repatriate Chinese-nationality terror suspects held at Guantanamo as quickly as possible" to China.

The Chinese embassy in Tirana told Reuters it might issue a written statement later on Monday. Communist Albania and China were allies from the early 1960s until the late 1970.

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