Toronto - Canada has refused a request from the Obama administration to take 17 Chinese Muslims cleared for release from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo.
Kory Teneycke, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said Friday recent inquiries concerning the 17 Uighurs at Guantanamo were rejected.
“Canada is not looking to take any detainees from Guantanamo,” Teneycke told The Associated Press. “In the case of the Uighurs and other Guantanamo Bay detainees Canada has no interest.”
Teneycke said they have no connection to Canada and there are security concerns.
He said it’s a different situation for Canadian detainee Omar Khadr, who Teneycke said does have standing in Canada because he is a citizen.
Canada, however, is appealing a court ruling requiring it to ask the U.S. to return the last Western detainee to Canada. Harper has steadfastly refused to get involved in Khadr's case, saying the U.S. legal process has to play itself out.
Khadr is charged with killing an American soldier in Afghanistan.
U.S. authorities no longer consider the Uighurs enemy combatants but have not been able to find a country willing to accept them and have opposed their release into the United States.
Beijing alleges they are terrorists who belong to an outlawed separatist group. China has warned other countries not to accept them and has said they must be returned to China. The U.S. has refused based on fears they will be tortured in their native country.
Teneycke said China’s warning has nothing to do with Canada's decision and noted that United States doesn't want the Guantanamo detainees either.
Canada’s announcement that it won’t take Guantanamo detainees comes a day after President Barack Obama nominated Chicago lawyer and political fundraiser David Jacobson as the new U.S. ambassador to Canada.
Teneycke doesn't expect Canada's refusal to hurt relations.
“I think we have a very strong relationship with the United States and with the Obama administration and I anticipate that that relationship will be unaffected by this,” Teneycke said.
Three of the Uighurs applied for political asylum in Canada earlier this year but Canada has previously privately balked at several requests from the Bush administration to take them.
Uighurs are from Xinjiang, an isolated region that borders Afghanistan, Pakistan and six Central Asian nations. They are Turkic-speaking Muslims who say they have long been repressed by the Chinese government. The Uighur detainees were captured in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2001.
Albania accepted five Uighur detainees in 2006 but since has balked at taking others, partly for fear of diplomatic repercussions from China.
Canada Refuses US Guantanamo Request