KOROR, Palau – Two more Chinese Muslim detainees held at Guantanamo Bay have agreed to be relocated to the tiny Pacific nation of Palau, their lawyer said Saturday, bringing to six the total who will resettle.
Palau has offered 13 ethnic Uighurs held at the U.S. military prison in Cuba a chance to move there — an arrangement that would ease President Barack Obama's plans to close the contentious facility.
The men have been held by the U.S. since their capture in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001. The Pentagon determined last year they were not "enemy combatants" but they have been in legal limbo ever since. China regards the Uighurs (pronounced WEE'-gurs) as terrorist suspects and wants them returned.
But Uighur activists claim the detainees face persecution or death if they are returned there, and U.S. officials have struggled to find a country to take them in.
"Two more of our clients have agreed to go to Palau as the U.S. continues to look for a permanent home for them," Eric Tirschwell, the U.S.-based lawyer for four of the detainees, told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Their acceptance means six of the detained Chinese Muslims have now decided to move to the mid-Pacific state, which offered in early June to take in the Turkic Muslims from far western China.
That same month, four Uighur detainees were resettled in Bermuda.
Five of the detainees have declined even to meet with Palau officials.
The relocation agreements need U.S. Congressional approval, a process that is expected to take about two weeks.
"We are hopeful that this long overdue move to freedom will happen as quickly as possible and are doing whatever we can to make that happen," Tirschwell said in an e-mail.
There was no immediate response to requests for comment from Palauan officials or from the U.S. State Department.
Palau is a developing country of 20,000 that is dependent on U.S. development funds.
No Uighurs currently live on Palau, which has a Muslim population of about 400, mostly migrant workers from Bangladesh.
Made up of eight main islands plus more than 250 islets, Palau is best known for diving and tourism and is located some 500 miles east of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean.