Latin America & Caribbean

Six men released from Guantanamo Bay arrive in Uruguay

Six Guantanamo men arrive in Montevideo
Image caption The six former Guantanamo inmates arrived in Montevideo in the early hours of Sunday

Six prisoners released by the US from the Guantanamo Bay detention centre have arrived in Uruguay as free men.

Earlier this year, Uruguay said it had agreed to received the men - four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian - as a humanitarian gesture.

The six men were detained 12 years ago for alleged ties with al-Qaeda but never charged.

President Jose Mujica said they had been subjected to "an atrocious kidnapping".

The Pentagon identified the released detainees as Abu Wael Dhiab, Ali Husain Shaaban, Ahmed Adnan Ajuri, and Abdelahdi Faraj, from Syria; Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan, Palestinian; Adel bin Muhammad El Ouerghi, from Tunisia.

A lawyer for 43-year-old Abu Wael Dhiab said his client was grateful to the South American nation for taking him.

Image caption President Barack Obama has pledged to close the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay
Image caption President Mujica is leaving office with high approval rates

"He thinks that this is home," Cori Crider, lawyer from human rights group Reprieve, told the AP news agency.

"At the moment of course his main focus is on just getting well, to get well and also of course he wants to see his wife and his kids again."

Mr Dhiab had been on a hunger strike in Guantanamo in protest against his detention.

Uruguayans opposed

Media captionSix men, who have never been charged, are released from Guantanamo Bay to Uruguay after 12 years in confinement

The Uruguayan government released a statement saying the former inmates had been taken to a military hospital for health checks.

"The United States is grateful to the Government of Uruguay for its willingness to support ongoing US efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility," the Pentagon said in a statement.

President Barack Obama has pledged to close the camp in Cuba, which was opened in 2002 as a place to detain enemy combatants in America's war on terror.

Around half of the 136 men still in Guantanamo have been cleared for transfer but have nowhere to go because their countries are unstable or unsafe.

Image caption The six men were taken to a military hospital in Montevideo for health checks

A lawyer for Mr Faraj, Ramzi Kassem, also praised the government of Mr Mujica for its gesture.

"By welcoming our client and the others as refugees and free men, not as prisoners, Uruguay has shown that it truly possesses the courage of its convictions," he said.

Mr Mujica was himself held for over a decade in harsh prison conditions during Uruguay's period of military rule in the 1970s and 80s.

But his decision has been received with scepticism in Uruguay.

An October opinion poll showed 58% of Uruguayans were opposed to bringing in the prisoners.

In Latin America, El Salvador is the only other country to have given Guantanamo prisoners sanctuary, taking two in 2012.

Mr Mujica made the decision to take detainees from Guantanamo in March but the move was delayed until after November's presidential elections.

He was constitutionally barred from seeking re-election, but the vote was won by his party's candidate, Tabare Vasquez, who takes office in March.

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