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Switzerland to take Uyghur pair from Gitmo

By Terry Frieden, CNN
  • U.S. Justice Department expresses thanks to Switzerland
  • Uyghur American Association not certain when brothers will be transferred
  • The Mahmuds had refused an offer to free and settle in Palau; six others did
  • Pakistani forces captured them in 2001 in Afghanistan and handed them over to U.S.
  • China

Washington (CNN) -- Two ethnic Uyghur brothers from China will be released from Guantanamo prison and transferred to Switzerland to live, according to the Uyghur American Association.

The organization, which has pressed for the freedom of Bahtiyar Mahmud and Arkin Mahmud, say the Chinese Muslims will "live free and productive lives" under an agreement announced Wednesday by the Swiss government.

The group said it was not certain when they would be transferred to Switzerland.

Dean Boyd, spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department's National Security Division, said the department had no comment on the timing of the transfer.

But, he added in a statement, "We are grateful to the Swiss Government and the Cantons of Jura and Geneva for assisting our efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The United States will continue to work closely with Switzerland regarding this matter."

The brothers are among 192 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay military prison.

"The government and people of Switzerland have made an extraordinary humanitarian gesture, which is even more remarkable in the face of unrelenting pressure from China not to accept the two men," the Uyghur organization said.

The government and people of Switzerland have made an extraordinary humanitarian gesture...
--Uyghur American Association

China has demanded the return of the Uyghur detainees who belong to a separatist group in the Western reaches of China, which Uyghurs call East Turkestan.

The Mahmuds prompted headlines in November when they refused an offer to go free and settle in the Pacific Island nation of Palau. Six other Uyghurs did go to Palau.

Last June, four Uyghurs were released and sent to Bermuda. Five other Uyghurs remain at Guantanamo Bay.

Pakistani forces captured the Uyghurs in 2001 in Afghanistan and handed them over to the U.S. on suspicion of having conducted terrorist training.

The case of the Mahmud brothers and remaining Uyghur detainees is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear their appeal of a lower court ruling that blocked their release into the United States.