Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies/University of Hawai‘i

Says Uighurs likely would live in Koror

By Connor Murphy

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, June 12, 2009) - Palau won’t be paid to accept up to 17 Chinese Muslim detainees now being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, Palau’s president said yesterday.

Palauan President Johnson Toribiong has tentatively agreed to a United States request to temporarily resettle some or all of the detainees, who have been determined not to be enemy combatants, in Palau.

Although senior U.S. officials who spoke to the Associated Press said the United States was prepared to give Palau up to US$200 million in development aid, budget support and other assistance in return for accepting the refugees, Toribiong said this was likely in reference to the Compact of Free Association that is currently being reviewed.

"From our initial discussions, it was clear from both sides it was purely a humanitarian gesture," to accept the resettlement of the detainees, Toribiong said. "There would be no economic assistance from anybody, other than the United States assuring their transition would be smooth."

The review of the Compact, which expires October 1, is unrelated to this agreement, Toribiong said.

The United States will pay for the transfer and resettlement of the detainees, he said, but an exact amount has yet to be worked out.

The Chinese Uighur -- pronounced ‘WEE-gur’ -- detainees have been ordered to be released by a federal judge after the Pentagon determined they weren’t enemy combatants, but there is fierce Congressional opposition to releasing them on U.S. soil.

The United States will not send them back to China for fear they will be tortured or executed, officials have said. Beijing says Uighur insurgents are leading an Islamic separatist movement in China’s far west and wants the detainees returned to China.

No other country has agreed to take any of them, partly for fear of retribution from China, the AP has reported. Palau is one of a handful of countries that maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan, not China.

The arrangement would be temporary and subject to periodic review, Toribiong has said.

A former U.S. trust territory, Palau is an independent nation in free association with the United States under the Compact.

The Compact provides Palau with U.S. economic assistance including eligibility for certain U.S. federal programs, defense and other benefits. Compacts of free association also exist with the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Palau has received US$411 million in direct budgetary assistance since 1995 under the Compact, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report from last year.

In a letter sent last week by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Toribiong, the secretary wrote that "a successful resettlement arrangement would deepen the already strong and special relationship between the United States and Palau."

In a meeting between Palau and U.S. officials last week, Toribiong said, U.S. officials said they would "elevate the status" of the United States’s representative in Palau to an ambassador, as a result of the agreement.

Currently, the U.S. Embassy in Palau is run by a chargé d’affaires, which is a lower diplomatic rank.

The detainees are not believed to be dangerous and will be free and allowed to move about in society, Toribiong said.

He added yesterday that they would be provided security.

Additionally, they would not be allowed to travel, he said. None of the Uighurs have passports.

He said he expected them to live in Koror, Palau’s largest town and its former capital.

U.S. officials have not yet responded to Palau’s acceptance of their request, Toribiong said.

Palauan officials are headed to Washington, D.C., this week to work out the terms and conditions of the arrangement.

After the Washington meeting, the Palauan delegation then will head to the detention facility, located at a U.S. Navy Base on the shore of Cuba, to review the situation and the status of the detainees.

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