BEIJING – China on Tuesday demanded the return of five Chinese Muslims released from the Guantanamo Bay detention center, denouncing a U.S. decision to allow them to seek asylum in Albania.
The United States allowed the five Chinese to go to the Balkan country after concluding they posed no terrorist threat to the United States but might face persecution if they returned to China.
"These suspects should be sent to China as soon as possible," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao.
"The act by the United States and Albania strongly violates international law," Liu said at a news briefing.
Liu claimed that the five Chinese, members of the country's Uighur minority, are suspected of being members of a group accused of waging a violent separatist campaign in the country's northwest.
The five were among a number of Chinese detainees who had languished at the prison in Cuba for several years after being picked up during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Though the U.S. military had concluded they presented no terrorist threat, the Bush administration refused to allow their release into the United States and had been unable to find a country willing to accept them.
Albania agreed Friday to take in the detainees and was holding them at a refugee center while considering their applications for asylum, a process that could take at least two months.
On Monday, the Albanian Foreign Ministry said Albania had received a "verbal request for extradition" of the five Chinese. Foreign Minister Besnik Mustafaj told the Chinese ambassador that the Albanian government will conduct an investigation of the men's previous activities.