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China wants 17 terror suspects

China said that it wants 17 Muslim Chinese terror suspects returned if the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is closed.

world Updated: Dec 23, 2008 14:46 IST

China said on Tuesday that it wants 17 Muslim Chinese terror suspects returned if the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is closed by US President elect Barack Obama.

Obama has pledged to close the prison at the US naval station in southeastern Cuba which has come to symbolise aggressive detention practices that opened the United States to allegations of torture.

Although the US military no longer considers the 17 Uighurs "enemy combatants", they have remained at Guantanamo because the United States has been unable to find a country willing to take them.

"The 17 terror suspects imprisoned in the US military base of Guantanamo Bay are members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which has been listed as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.

"For these terror suspects, the Chinese government has always requested they be sent back to China and firmly opposes any country accepting them," he told a news briefing.

In 2006, the United States allowed five Chinese Muslims released from Guantanamo to go to Albania. The US government has said it cannot return the Uighurs to China because they would face persecution there.

Many Muslim Uighurs, who are from Xinjiang in far western China, seek greater autonomy for the region and some want independence. Beijing has waged a relentless campaign against what it calls their violent separatist activities.

The Uighurs had been living in a camp in Afghanistan during the US led bombing campaign that began in October 2001. They fled into the mountains and were detained by Pakistani authorities, who handed them over to the United States.