China protests Swiss acceptance of Guantanamo Uighurs

BEIJING Thu Feb 4, 2010 5:44pm IST

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Switzerland's decision to accept two Uighur brothers released from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay will hurt Sino-Swiss relations, China's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

Switzerland said the two did not constitute a security risk and that accepting them was part of its humanitarian mission.

China had expressed its opposition during negotiations for a free trade pact with Switzerland, ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said.

"Such a decision will certainly affect Sino-Swiss relations," Ma said, adding that the seven Uighurs held in Guantanamo were members of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, listed as a terrorist group by the U.N. Security Council.

"All countries must adhere to UN Charter chapter 7 and reject providing asylum to those who fund, plan, commit or abet a terrorist act."

The Uyghur American Association, an exile organisation, said the two brothers, Bahtiyar Mahmud and Arkin Mahmud, had been held at Guantanamo since 2002.

The younger, Bahtiyar, had refused resettlement in the Pacific island of Pulau, in order to remain together with his older brother, who suffers from mental illness.

The association said Bahtiyar had fled to Afghanistan following a Chinese crackdown in his native Xinjiang, in northeast China, and his brother had gone to look for him.

China has sought the return of all the Uighurs held captive at Guantanamo. Five remain at the prison, after four were sent to Bermuda and six to Pulau last year, according to UAA records.

Xinjiang's population of 21 million is divided mainly between Uighurs, long the region's majority, and Han Chinese, many of whom arrived in recent decades.

Uighurs now make up about 46 percent of the region's population and many chafe at Chinese restrictions on religion and language while feeling left out by the country's economic growth.

Last July, demonstrations by Uighurs in the Xinjiang capital against the killing of Uighur workers in southern China turned violent, leaving at least 197 people, mostly Han Chinese, dead. Han Chinese launched revenge attacks two days later.

Cambodia in December deported 20 Uighurs who had fled China after the riots to seek asylum with the United Nations.

(Reporting by Lucy Hornby and Liu Zhen; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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