US and UK authorities say they are still in discussion over the four Uighurs. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
US and UK authorities say they are still in discussion over the four Uighurs. *Photo by Kageaki Smith

FRIDAY, OCT 5: The island’s four Uighur refugees have sparked fresh international diplomatic controversy after their plight was highlighted in a US newspaper.

The story said the US government considered the matter closed after Bermuda controversially agreed to take the four ex-prisoners from America’s Guantanamo Bay jail in Cuba.

But the statement was at odds with the UK position that the Foreign Office was still in talks with the US State Department to resettle the men.

The New York Post’s Maureen Callahan wrote: “An official at the State Department tells The Post that the US considers the matter closed.”

She told the Bermuda Sun yesterday: “I confirm that that’s what State Department told me, that they consider the matter closed.”

Cooperative

But a spokeswoman for the State Department told the Bermuda Sun on Wednesday: “That statement is not accurate.”

She added: “The United States remains in a cooperative dialogue with the United Kingdom regarding the issue of the four Uighurs resettled in Bermuda and shares the goal of finding a sustainable solution to their current situation.”

Acting Governor David Arkley repeated the UK stance that it continued to work with the US to find the Uigurs permanent homes elsewhere.

He said: “We remain in discussion with the US Government on the issue.

“They are on record as saying that they have not ruled out the possibility of resettling the four Uighurs to another location as part of a permanent solution for all those still detained in Guantanamo Bay.”

The four Uighurs, were brought to Bermuda more than three years ago after a secret agreement between then-Premier Dr Ewart Brown and the Barack Obama administration in the US.

The men, members of a Chinese Muslim minority group persecuted in China, were arrested in Pakistan in 2001 as part of the war on terror and detained in the US prison camp set up in the US Marine Corps base in Guantanamo Bay for seven years.

Initially suspected of being enemy combatants, they were later released without charge after the US accepted they were not terrorists.

They could not return to China because of fears of repression, but the US refused to settle them inside its borders, so the Obama administration struck a deal with Dr Brown.

Britain has refused to grant the men passports, leaving them stateless and unable to leave Bermuda.

Former Governor Sir Richard Gozney described the row as “the most glaring low spot” in his term of office.

He said the Bermuda Government had failed to consult the UK, which “ran right across” Bermuda’s Constitution because, while immigration was a matter for Government, foreign affairs was reserved to Britain.