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Uruguay: Gitmo prisoner transfer not imminent

Sep. 2, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY — A plan to resettle six men held at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo in Uruguay is still being negotiated and is unlikely to occur before upcoming elections in the South American country, an official said Monday.

The Pentagon had given the U.S. Congress a legally required 30-day notice in July that it intended to transfer the six long-held men for resettlement, suggesting it may have been imminent after months of delay. But presidential spokesman Diego Canepa said undisclosed issues had yet to be resolved.

“I don’t think they will be resolved within the next two to three months,” Canepa said.

Presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for Oct. 26 with a possible presidential runoff on Nov. 30. Mujica, who is not running for re-election, has said he decided to offer to resettle the six prisoners as a humanitarian gesture but polls suggest a majority of people in Uruguay, a country with relatively few Muslims, do not support the transfer.

Canepa denied a report in The New York Times that Mujica had asked the U.S. to postpone the transfer because it would be risky before the election. The spokesman told reporters that there was never a fixed date to postpone in the first place.

“There isn’t a date that could be extended or changed,” he said.

The spokesman also denied that the U.S. has pressured Uruguay to accept the men.

Mujia told The Associated Press in May that there wasn’t anything to resolve on the Uruguayan side. “We made our proposal. It’s now up to the U.S.,” he said at the time.

Uruguay would be the first country in South America to accept prisoners from Guantanamo for resettlement. The U.S. has been trying to transfer prisoners around the world as part of its long-stalled effort to close the detention center but has struggled to find countries willing to accept them and is prohibited by law from sending them to the U.S. for any reason, including imprisonment.

The U.S. opened the detention center on its Navy base in Cuba in January 2002 to hold men suspected of links to al-Qaida, the Taliban or other terrorist organizations.

The six men approved for transfer to Uruguay — four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian — have not been charged with a crime, and officials say they do not pose a threat.

About 600 prisoners have been released under both President Barack Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, most of them sent to their home countries. But dozens of the 149 who remain cannot be sent back because they are likely to face harm or persecution at home or because the U.S. does not consider the security situation stable enough.

Obama came into office vowing to close the prison but was blocked by Congress, which placed restrictions on transfers. There are still 149 prisoners.

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