May 12, 2006

China criticizes US handling of Uighur detainees

BEIJING (Reuters) - A former leader of China's far western
region of Xinjiang criticized the United States on Friday for
allowing five Chinese Muslims released from Guantanamo Bay to
seek asylum in Albania.

Ismail Amat, a vice-chairman of China's parliament and
formerly a senior Communist Party official in the Central Asia
border region that is home to the country's Muslim Uighur
minority, said the men should have been released into Chinese

"The way the U.S. has handled this case is not right," Amat
told reporters on the sidelines of a news conference.

The United States said last week the men had been released
from nearly four years of U.S. military detention but it
declined to return them to China out of concern they would face
persecution. Instead, they were flown to Albania.

China's Foreign Ministry has protested to the United States
and Albania over the issue.

Beijing has waged a campaign in Xinjiang against what it
says are Islamic extremists and says the men are connected to a
group agitating for an independent "East Turkestan."

Amat said the cases would be handled according to the law
if they were returned, but repeatedly referred to them as

He also said they had received training under the Taliban
in Afghanistan, indicating that despite being cleared of
charges in Guantanamo, China still viewed them as suspects.

Uighurs, whose language and culture are similar to those of
Turkic peoples in Cental Asia, have chafed at Beijing's
controls on religion and culture in Xinjiang, sparking
occasional violence in the oil-rich region.

But human rights groups say China has used its support for
the U.S.-led war on terror to justify a wider crackdown on
Uighurs characterized by arbitrary arrests, closed trials and
the use of the death penalty.