Germany to accept two Guantanamo detainees

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Germany has agreed to take in two Guantanamo detainees, a minister said Wednesday, in a modest victory for US President Barack Obama in his bid to win allies' help to close the prison.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration and state governments, whose cooperation was needed in settling the men from the US prison in Cuba, had resolved lingering security concerns.

The decision followed months of deliberation, and de Maiziere said Berlin had no intention of accepting further prisoners.

US authorities cleared the Palestinian and Syrian detainees for release after nearly nine years in detention without charge and de Maiziere said he was confident they posed no threat.

"We will not be bringing any terrorists to the country," he told a news conference.

The minister said Berlin sought to back Obama in his drive to shut Guantanamo as soon as possible.

"The German government repeatedly criticised the establishment of this detention camp and that is why we are interested in helping to close it," he said.

"I stand by this decision based on three criteria: the necessary security concerns for the citizens of Germany, humanitarian factors and German security policy."

One detainee will be sent "in a few weeks" to the northern port city of Hamburg and the other to the southwestern region Rhineland-Palatinate, de Maiziere said.

US President Barack Obama pledged to shut down the disputed US military prison in southeastern Cuba by January after it became a symbol for excesses in the "war on terror" under his predecessor George W. Bush.

Washington has asked allies to help resettle prisoners who have been cleared of all charges but cannot return home, often over fears they may be tortured. But their reluctance has been a key obstacle in closing the site.

According to US government figures from early May, 181 detainees remain there including dozens already cleared for release. Most have been held without charge or trial.

The German chapter of Amnesty International welcomed Wednesday's decision as a "contribution to the end of this human rights scandal" and called on authorities to help the two men integrate into German society.

It also called on Merkel to use her influence in the European Union to convince other member states to take in former prisoners.

Berlin in 2006 accepted a Turkish citizen who grew up in Germany back from Guantanamo.

Late last year, the United States asked Germany to take in another three detainees.

De Maiziere said a German delegation had travelled to Guantanamo in March and spoken with the men. On the basis of these interviews, the minister said he accepted two but rejected the third candidate, without citing details.

Germany last year refused a separate request to take in two other ex-detainees, arguing that Washington had failed to provide sufficient background information on them.

And it had previously rejected a US call to accept Chinese Uighur detainees.

© 2010 AFP

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