- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2007

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand refused several times to take detainees the U.S. wanted to relocate from its Guantanamo Bay military prison, a senior New Zealand official said today.

“In 2005 and early 2006, New Zealand declined several requests from the United States to resettle Guantanamo Bay detainees as refugees in New Zealand,” the Labor Department’s Refugee Services Director Kevin Third said.

He was responding to questions after it was revealed that Washington had asked Canada to accept detainees of Uighur descent because they were likely to be at risk if sent back to China.

Earlier this month, the Canadian Press reported that notes prepared for former Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay in February indicate the Bush administration asked Canada to accept Guantanamo Bay detainees of Uighur descent from China’s Xinjiang region who were deemed to be no threat to national security.

Canada balked at the requests to provide asylum, according to the documents.

The U.S. was not prepared to resettle the men on its own territory but could not send them back to China for fear they would face persecution.

The Pentagon has confirmed the U.S. government had talks with other countries over the possible transfer of detainees.

“The government has long stated that we have no desire to be the world’s jailer. To that end, we continue to discuss with other governments the possibility of transferring detainees once humane treatment and continuing threat concerns have been satisfactorily addressed by the receiving country,” Pentagon spokesman Greg Hicks told Associated Press in an e-mail last week.

The U.S. holds about 360 men at Guantanamo suspected of links to al Qaeda or the Taliban, but that is about half the number held at its peak in 2003. It is struggling to empty it further.