Guantanamo prisoners from China receive asylum in Albania

26 July 2006

TIRANA - Five Chinese Muslims released from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay have received asylum in Albania, the Interior Ministry said Wednesday.

A senior ministry official, who declined to be named, confirmed that Albania had granted asylum on July 13 to the five Uighurs, who are sheltering at a refugee center in Tirana.

They were brought to Albania May 5 after US authorities said they posed no terrorist threat to the US but might face persecution if returned to China.

Lawyers for the five Chinese Muslims have said their clients were hoping to find another host country where it would be easier for them to integrate.

US forces detained the five Uighurs during the invasion of Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

China has demanded the five be returned, saying they are suspected of having links to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement _ which it accuses of waging a violent separatist campaign in China’s northwestern Muslim region of Xinjiang _ and of being close to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terror network.

Albania has said US officials assured them the men had no terror links, and urged China to present evidence for its suspicions.