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Uighur Detainees Willing to Move to Palau, Relocation Deal Close

KOROR, Palau - Some Chinese Muslims still detained at Guantanamo Bay have overcome reservations about being sent to the remote Pacific nation of Palau, and a final deal on their relocation was close, a lawyer for two of them said Wednesday.

The Uighur detainees met with U.S. State Department officials on Monday and informed the diplomats they are now willing to move to Palau, said George Clarke, a lawyer acting for two of the inmates who took part in the talks.

Clarke told The Associated Press by telephone that "more than four and less than all" of the 13 Uighurs had agreed to go to the island nation.

Palau in June offered to take the 13 detainees from the Muslim Uighur minority as part of President Barack Obama's plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility for terrorist suspects and other prisoners captured during the Afghan war.

But the island state's President Johnson Toribiong told AP in June that some of the men were hesitant about accepting because they feared the island state could not shield them from China.

The 13 Uighurs, Turkic Muslims from the far west of China, have been held by the United States since their capture in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001. The Pentagon determined last year that they were not "enemy combatants," but they have been in legal limbo ever since.

China considers them separatists and has demanded they be sent home for trial. U.S. officials have said the men could be executed if they are returned to China and have refused to send them there.

Mark Bezner, the top American official in Palau, confirmed the State Department was putting together a document spelling out the terms of the Uighurs' stay in Palau.

"I expect to have it soon," he said. "We'll be discussing it with the Palauans and then it can be relayed to the Uighurs' attorneys."

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