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Palau Agrees to Take Uighur Gitmo Detainees

Chinese Uighur detainees at Gitmo

The South Pacific island nation of Palau has agreed to "temporarily resettle" the 17 Uighurs, or Chinese Muslims, currently being held at Guantanamo Bay, an official with the Palau government told FOX News.

"Palau's accommodation to accept the temporary resettlement of these detainees is a humanitarian gesture intended to held them be freed from any further unnecessary incarceration and to restart their lives anew in as normal a fashion as possible," according to a press release provided to FOX News by the official.

Two U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Associated Press, said the U.S. was prepared to give Palau up to $200 million in development, budget support and other assistance in return for accepting the Uighurs and as part of a mutual defense and cooperation treaty that is due to be renegotiated this year.

A U.S. delegation led by Special Envoy Dan Fried met with Palau President Johnson Toribiong on Thursday "to consider the problem of the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility," the press release said.

The next day, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent a letter to Toribiong saying, "Given the excellent relationship between the United States and Palau and our shared commitment to humanitarian values, we believe Palau may be in a good position to consider positively our request for assistance with the critical task of resettling certain detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay."

Clinton's letter added, "A successful resettlement arrangement would deepen the already strong and special relationship between the United States and Palau and help us to move toward the closure of the Guantanamo Detention Facility, a problem of global concern."

According to the press release, Toribiong "consulted" with his Ministers and the Leadership of the Palau National Congress before "agree[ing] to accommodate the United States of America's request to temporarily resettle in Palau up to 17 ethnic Uighur detainees presently being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, subject to periodic review."

"I am honored and proud that the United States has asked Palau to assist with such a critical task," Toribiong said in the press release. "This is but a small thing we can do to thank our best friend and ally for all it has done for Palau."

A spokesman for the Justice Department, which is leading a review of Guantanamo Bay detainees' cases, declined to comment.

Palau officials will soon be visiting the Guantanamo Bay detention facility "to review the situation, verify the status of the detainees, and report back to [the President]," the press release said.

The 17 Uighurs are members of a Muslim group from China. According to U.S. officials, they received weapons training in Afghanistan so they could fight against the Chinese government. U.S. officials worry they could face torture if sent back to China, but the U.S. government has had difficulty identifying countries willing to accept the Uighurs.

One controversial option considered was to release the Uighurs into the United States. In fact, a federal court  ordered the U.S. government to do just that, but an appeals court blocked the move, ruling that the federal court lacked the necessary authority.

Last week, during a press tour of their detention camp, some of the Uighurs approached the fence around the facility and -- with phrases written on an art pad -- compared the U.S. government to that of China and Nazi Germany. One Uighur asked in English, "Obama is a Communist or a Democrat?"

"Palau's decision is consistent with its age-old cultural tradition of accommodating and helping people in need," the press release provided to FOX News said.

Palau was once a trusteeship administered by the United States, but Palau became independent in October 1994. The United States and Palau then entered into a Compact of Free Association, which a senior State Department official said plays no role in "any other discussions we might be having with the government of Palau."

Sabin Willett, a lawyer for six of the Uighurs, said he has been left in the dark about the U.S. government's plans for the Uighurs. If Palau has in fact agreed to take them, he said, "the real question is whether the Uighurs will want to go."

"There are issues like getting a job and speaking the language," he said.

Willett said it's unfortunate that the "American people have never gotten to know the Uighurs," whom he characterized as "harmless."

FOX News' Catherine Herridge and James Rosen contributed to this report.