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Thread: Canada close to accepting three Gitmo detainees

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    Default Canada close to accepting three Gitmo detainees

    Canada close to accepting three Gitmo detainees
    Obama likely to raise issue of Uyghur men on Canadian visit; move could add to pressure to bring Khadr home, expert says


    February 4, 2009

    Canada is close to accepting three Uyghur men who have been held at Guantanamo Bay for seven years despite being cleared of any wrongdoing by the United States, The Globe and Mail has learned.

    The three Uyghurs - members of a Muslim minority from northwestern China - are among six Guantanamo detainees who have recently applied for resettlement in Canada.

    A prominent Uyghur human rights activist, Mehmet Tohti, met with several senior Conservative government officials on Jan. 23, to urge them to accept the Uyghur detainees in light of President Barack Obama's decision to close the detention camp within a year.

    "There was a positive consensus," Mr. Tohti said of his meeting with Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and senior advisers to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon. "They were not against it."

    Shortly after the meetings, lawyers for two of the 17 Uyghurs still being held at Guantanamo filed applications for refugee status in Canada. They have not given their lawyers permission to make their names public. A third Uyghur prisoner, Anvar Hassan, filed his application a few months ago.

    Mr. Tohti said lawyers have been unable to obtain proof of identity for some of the other 14 Uyghurs, which is necessary to file a refugee claim. The men were captured in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, some by Pakistani bounty hunters.

    Mr. Hassan is being sponsored for resettlement by the Don Valley Refugee Resettlement Organization, a group of eight Toronto churches. The other two men are being sponsored by the Archdiocese of Montreal. The groups essentially agree to support the men with clothing and shelter should they be allowed into Canada.

    Mr. Tohti, a member of the Uyghur Canadian Association, said he has been told by his U.S. counterparts that President Obama will bring up the Uyghurs' case when he visits Canada on Feb. 19.

    Canada considered taking in some or all of the original 22 Uyghurs held in Guantanamo several years ago. The government backed off at the last minute, in large part out of concern for the wellbeing of Huseyin Celil, a Canadian serving a life sentence in a Chinese prison. Although China demanded that no country take the men, Albania took five of them.

    But now, with a new administration in Washington looking to close Guantanamo and find a new home for most of the detainees who have not been charged with any crime, the Harper government may be more willing to take in what are described as "the most desirable" of the Guantanamo detainees - prisoners who are largely untouched by allegations of terrorism.

    If Ottawa does accept any of the Uyghurs, it would add to mounting pressure to bring detained Canadian Omar Khadr home, and would not help Canada-China relations, said University of Toronto professor and national-security expert Wesley Wark.

    Prof. Wark said Ottawa will likely approach the Uyghur situation the same way they have approached the Khadr case - refusing to act until the last moment.

    "I think the government is going to sit on their hands on this for as long as possible and leave all the steps to the Obama administration," he said.

    Kory Teneycke, the Prime Minister's spokesman, refused to comment on the Uyghurs' applications yesterday. A spokeswoman for Mr. Cannon did not return a phone call.

    The government has been far less receptive to ongoing requests to accept Algerian prisoners Djamel Ameziane, Ahcene Zemiri and Mauritanian Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Ottawa has fought hard to keep the men out of the country, in part on the grounds that they are not Canadian citizens, but also because of some of the allegations against them. Mr. Ameziane is alleged to have conspired with al-Qaeda, while Mr. Slahi is alleged to have played a role in a terror cell that spawned some of the 9/11 hijackers.

    A group of human rights organizations sent a letter to the Prime Minister yesterday urging him to accept the Uyghurs as refugees.

    "We recognize that there are other worrying cases of detainees at Guantanamo Bay demanding of Canadian attention and action," the letter states. "As part of your government's contribution to assisting the U.S. government in the closure of Guantanamo Bay we urge you to also make the plight of these 17 Uyghurs a priority for Canadian action."

    The letter also calls on Mr. Harper to appoint a special representative to handle Mr. Celil's case. The Canadian citizen was arrested in Uzbekistan while travelling on a Canadian passport and handed over to China in 2006. China accused him of terrorism and sentenced him to life in prison. Chinese officials have never recognized his Canadian citizenship. Canada initially pushed hard for Mr. Celil's release, with Mr. Harper taking the case up directly with Chinese leader Hu Jintao, to no avail. However, in recent years, Ottawa has toned down efforts to bring Mr. Celil home.


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    Barikalla Memet

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