The Palau government says it has agreed to temporarily accept the 17 Uighurs. Officials said they would do so as a humanitarian gesture and to help President Obama make good on his promise to close the Guantánamo detention camp by next January.
There are roughly 240 detainees currently held at the camp. Officials have estimated that 20 to 80 will face trial either in a US civilian courtroom or before a military commission. Roughly 50 have been cleared for resettlement.
Legal challenges waged on behalf of the Uighurs brought procedures at Guantánamo under close judicial scrutiny. The men say they were sold into US captivity by Pakistani bounty hunters in 2001 and 2002. They admitted being present in camps run by fellow Chinese Muslims in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan. But they deny any link to Al-Qaeda or terrorism.
The Uighur ethnic group is native to western China. US human rights reports say Uighurs are distrusted as potential political separatists and are subject to abusive treatment by Chinese authorities. The heated political situation in their home region makes resettlement in China impossible. In addition, Chinese diplomatic influence makes resettlement to a third country potentially problematic.
Palau was considered a good fit for resettlement in part because it recognizes the government of Taiwan and does not have diplomatic relations with China.