EU, US reach agreement on Guantanamo transfers

14th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

The deal, to be agreed by EU foreign ministers Monday ahead of a later joint announcement with Washington, stresses that the decision to take in any of the former inmates was one for individual European governments, diplomats said.

Brussels -- The EU and the United States agreed Thursday on conditions for the transfer of ex-Guantanamo inmates to Europe, stopping short of obliging the US to house any, according to European diplomats.

The deal, to be agreed by EU foreign ministers Monday ahead of a later joint announcement with Washington, stresses that the decision to take in any of the former inmates was one for individual European governments, diplomats said.

However, given that many EU nations are part of the border-free Schengen zone, both US and the receiving nation will be obliged to share relevant confidential and intelligence information with other European nations.

When it comes to whether the United States itself should accept former inmates from its camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the agreement is mute, affirming only "that the primary responsibility for closing Guantanamo and finding residence for former detainees rests wit the United States."

Some EU nations have questioned Washington's policy of seeking new homes for inmates who cannot return to their country of origin while not promising to take any in itself.

An earlier version of the text, supported in particular by Austria and Germany -- included the line that "the United States recognises its responsibility to accept certain former detainees."

"It's a compromise," one European diplomat said. "The question of the United States receiving some of the detainees is a very sensitive point right now."

The joint text speaks of the wish to "help the US turn the page" on the Guantanamo affair, pointing out that "certain member states of the European Union have expressed their readiness to assist with the reception of certain former Guantanamo detainees, on a case-by-case basis."

Six countries have said they are willing to accept former detainees: Britain, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain and, recently, Belgium.

The EU-US agreement also stops short of insisting that Washington help finance resettlement operations, noting only that "the United States will consider contributing to the costs incurred by EU member states."

US President Barack Obama has vowed to shut down the Guantanamo camp which has been anathema to human rights groups since his predecessor George W. Bush set it up to interrogate terror suspects in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks and the US action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The prospect of transferring the remaining 240 so-called "war on terror" inmates at Guantanamo Bay to top security jails in the United States remains deeply unpopular with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

Only one former inmate is already in Europe, Algerian Lakhdar Boumediene, who has been allowed into France with his family.

Last week EU interior ministers agreed individual countries could host detainees but may be forced to place them under surveillance and restrict their movement.

That deal was reached after Austria, Germany and Italy stood firm against allowing any inmates to roam freely in Europe's 25-nation Schengen zone, where official passport controls have been dropped.

It obliges nations to undertake "consultation and thorough information sharing" with their neighbours before accepting any former prisoners.

AFP/Expatica

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