Five Muslims from China at Guantánamo get asylum -- in Albania...


Five Muslims from China at Guantánamo get asylum -- in Albania

A year after Pentagon review panels cleared five Muslim men from China of being enemy combatants, the U.S. government has finally found a nation to offer them sanctuary: Albania.

The Pentagon announced this evening that it has successfully sent five Uighurs from the Guantánamo Bay Navy Base in Cuba to freedom in Albania.

''The United States has done the utmost to ensure that the Uighurs will be treated humanely upon release,'' a Defense Department announcement said.

``Our key objective has been to resettle the Uighurs in an environment that will permit them to rebuild their lives. Albania will provide this opportunity.''

Thursday, lawyers for one of the men -- identified as Ahmed Doe -- made public a letter from the man at Guantánamo appealing directly to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for asylum in the United States.

''It is very hard to understand that I am still languishing in a prison with very little rights even after being found innocent,'' he wrote in the letter, dated Jan. 19.

``It is beyond my reasoning . . . that a nation like the United States that has an agenda to promote and protect democratic rights of the oppressed people would treat anyone the way that I have been treated.''

The five were among about two dozen Muslims with Chinese citizenship who were rounded up in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan more than four years ago in a saga that included interrogation by both U.S. troops and Chinese investigators at the remote base in southeast Cuba.

Published reports have said that the Bush administration put out feelers to friendly nations the world over to offer asylum to the Muslim men in their 20s and 30s who had feared reprisal from communist Chinese officials if they were returned home.

Uighurs are an Asian Muslim minority who predominantly live today in the Xinjiang region of communist China, a Western Turkic region where, the State Department says, Muslim religious expression and education is tightly restricted. China considers Uighur separatists to be terrorists, and blames them for a series of bombings beginning in 1997.

A Uighur rights activist in the Washington, D.C., area who had doubled as an interpreter for the men at Guantánamo declared himself delighted by the development.

Albania ''is a relatively ideal country I would say for religious purposes -- not for economic reasons but for cultural reasons,'' said Nury Turkel in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.

Although poor, and war-torn, Albania is a predominantly Muslim country of the former Ottoman empire and should be culturally compatible for the men, said Turkel.

''I saw them a few weeks ago and they were exhausted, mentally and physically,'' said Turkel, who said it was good news that the men ''are out of prison'' and expected to get refugee status from the U.N. High Commission for Refugees.

Turkel was leaving for Tirana, Albania, over the weekend with one of the attorneys who had argued their cause in U.S. District Court in Washington -- to check on the men.

The State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, released a statement late Friday calling Albania's agreement to resettle the men ``an important humanitarian gesture.''

© 2006 and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.