Slovakia has accepted three prisoners from Guantanamo Bay who had posed a difficult resettlement challenge, helping the US government move closer to its goal of closing the prison on its base in Cuba, officials said today. The three men who left for the Central European country in recent days were Uighurs, members of an ethnic Muslim minority from western China who had been detained in Afghanistan as suspected allies of the Taliban and sent to Guantanamo Bay for interrogation. Authorities eventually determined that the 22 Uighurs in its custody had no involvement in terrorism, but the US struggled to resettle them.
China requested their return, but they couldn't be sent there because of fears they would face persecution and torture. Many countries refused to accept them out of reluctance to anger Beijing. Congress blocked a US judge's order to release them inside the United States. Eventually, the US relocated Uighurs to Bermuda, Palau, Switzerland, and elsewhere but could not find countries that would take the final three and would also be acceptable to the men—even after a decade of captivity at Guantanamo. Slovakia had previously accepted three Guantanamo prisoners, from Egypt, Tunisia, and Azerbaijan, in 2009. The Interior Ministry portrayed this latest transfer as simply an extension of the previous agreement. The release brings the Guantanamo prison population down to 155. (Read more Gitmo stories.)