Fears of Angering China German Foreign Minister Opposes Taking Uighur Guantanamo Inmates

The US wants Germany to take a group of nine Guantanamo inmates of Uighur origin. But now German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is getting cold feet -- he's worried that taking the Uighurs could cause a spat with China.

The fate of a group of Guantanamo inmates of Uighur origin is threatening to drive a wedge between the US and Germany. The US has asked Germany to take in nine ethnic Uighur detainees. But now German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, although he supports taking Guantanamo prisoners, is trying to keep the number of Uighurs as low as possible, SPIEGEL has learned.

Guantanamo Bay detention camp: Germany is getting cold feet about taking nine Uighur inmates.

Guantanamo Bay detention camp: Germany is getting cold feet about taking nine Uighur inmates.

At the end of April, senior US diplomat Daniel Fried, who is responsible for trying to resettle prisoners from the soon-to-be-closed Guantanamo Bay camp, gave the Germans a list of nine inmates that the US wants Germany to take. The prisoners belong to China's Uighur minority, a mainly Muslim group which has been the subject of brutal repression by the Chinese authorities.

However Steinmeier is concerned that taking the men would cause a diplomatic spat with China, which considers the men to be terrorists and has demanded their extradition. Steinmeier's staff has been following the American initiative with trepidation, particularly because Fried already served as a secretary of state during the Bush administration.

Last week, a senior official from the German Foreign Ministry, Reinhard Silberberg, told the US administration about Germany's reservations during a visit to Washington. Germany could only accept Uighur prisoners if other European countries also took some of them, he said -- that way, at least China's anger would not only be focused on Germany. Berlin only wants to accept some of the nine Uighurs and would like if possible to take prisoners of other nationalities in addition.

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry refused to confirm the SPIEGEL report. "We are still at the very beginning of our discussions within the German government and with the US," he told the news agency Reuters Saturday.

Steinmeier has received support from former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who warned against accepting the Uighurs. "Such a decision would put a serious strain on German-Chinese relations," Schröder told SPIEGEL. It was indeed correct to support US President Barack Obama in his efforts to close Guantanamo, Schröder said. However "only the US itself can take in the Uighurs without causing serious diplomatic damage," he said. Steinmeier was Schröder's chief of staff from 1999 to 2005 and is also the Social Democratic Party's candidate for chancellor in September's national elections.

The US has asked Germany to take the Uighurs, considered by US officials to pose little risk, partly because Germany is home to one of the largest Uighur enclaves outside Asia. Around 500 Uighurs live in Munich.

dgs -- with wire reports


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