BEIJING – China said Tuesday it wants Chinese detainees at Guantanamo Bay to be returned to China if the detention center is closed by President-elect Barack Obama.
Obama has said he intends to shut Guantanamo Bay once he takes office in January, a move that could see some detainees released and others charged in U.S. courts.
China says the 17 prisoners, Turkic-speaking Muslims called Uighurs from China's far West, are terrorists who belong to an outlawed group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.
"The Chinese government has always urged that these prisoners be repatriated back to China. We oppose any countries taking these prisoners," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a news briefing.
The 17 have been cleared for release but Washington fears they could be mistreated or even tortured if they are turned over to China and has been trying to find another home for them. Many countries fear diplomatic repercussions from China if they receive them.
Albania accepted five Uighur detainees in 2006 but since has balked at taking others. Portugal recently offered to take Guantanamo detainees, but there has been no concrete agreement.
German officials said Monday they were considering taking some inmates who refuse or cannot return to their home countries when Guantanamo finally closes. Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier has asked officials to look into the legal, political and practical aspects of accepting former inmates.
Beijing has denied the Uighurs would be tortured if they return, saying China is a country ruled by law and forbids torture.
The detainees, captured in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2001, are from Xinjiang — an isolated region that borders Afghanistan, Pakistan and six Central Asian nations. They say they are oppressed by the Chinese government.
China says the Islamic terrorist group seeks to split Xinjiang from China, and has blamed the group for sporadic violence, repeatedly urging the U.S. to turn the Uighurs over to Chinese authorities. The U.S. listed it as a terrorist organization in 2002.
Critics say China uses the charge of terrorism to crack down on Muslims in Xinjiang who chafe under Beijing's rule.
As many as 50 of the roughly 250 inmates remaining at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba would risk mistreatment if sent back to countries such as China, Algeria and Syria, according to human rights groups. The U.S. has described a lack of resettlement options for them as an obstacle to emptying the prison.