Maldives offers to take two Gitmo prisoners

Maldives has offered to take two Gitmo detainees in a humanitarian gesture.

Colombo: Maldives has offered to take two detainees held by the United States at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba, in what it described as a humanitarian gesture, the Foreign Minister said on Sunday.

US President Barack Obama, who has vowed to close the "war on terror" camp, 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.

"We are in discussions with the American government to transfer two prisoners of Muslim origin on humanitarian grounds," Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed said.

"The two prisoners are innocent, they don`t have any formal record of terrorism, violence or extremism," Shaheed said.

One of the prisoners is Palestinian, while the other was not identified.

"The Palestinian man has no family. He has no past record of terrorism or violence. He has no political links and he belongs to an evangelical Islamic sect," Shaheed said.

He added that some legal issues still needed to be resolved, such as the pair`s status in the Indian Ocean atoll nation.

Obama had promised to close the notorious naval base prison by January 22 but his administration failed to meet its deadline, partly due to resistance in Congress over transferring some inmates to US soil.

There are still around 180 inmates held at the prison.

In his weekly nationwide address on Friday, Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed said taking in detainees held in Guantanamo Bay would bring honour and prestige to his country of 300,000 Sunni Muslims.

"In my view, it is not in line at all with our Constitution, Islam, or `Maldivianness` that we refuse to help -- especially Muslims, especially those wrongly imprisoned," Nasheed said on state-radio.

In December, Nasheed praised Obama`s vow to close Guantanamo Bay as a "symbolic gesture".

The Maldivian opposition, however, has accused Nasheed of seeking financial assistance from the Obama administration in exchange for taking the prisoners.

Former information minister and independent member of parliament, Mohamed Nasheed, who has the same name as the President but is not related, said the US had asked the Maldives to monitor the two prisoners once they are transferred.

"The Maldivian government can`t even transfer the prisoners to a third country without prior approval from the US. The US should be encouraged to send the prisoners to their country of origin, and not here," he said.

The opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party has threatened to challenge the government in court and said the transfer jeopardises national security.

Bureau Report