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Last Uighurs freed from Guantanamo and Mathieu Rabechault

WASHINGTON -- The last three Uighurs who had languished in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay for over a decade without charge have been freed and sent to Slovakia, officials said Tuesday.

As the world was ushering in 2014, the men were swapping the austere, remote military facility in southeastern Cuba for a refugee camp in their new homeland.

“They are already in Slovakia. They will now stay at a camp for migrants, learn Slovak and get ready for a new life,” Slovakian Interior Ministry spokesman Ivan Netik told AFP.

Yusef Abbas, 38, Saidullah Khalik, 36, and Hajiakbar Abdul Ghuper, 39, were the last of a group of 22 ethnic Chinese Muslims captured in a mountain camp in Afghanistan in 2001.

“The inmates we received were never suspected, let alone convicted of crimes,” Netik said, adding the authorities were looking for jobs for them.

The releases, part of stepped up efforts by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama to fulfill a long-held pledge to close the jail, were announced earlier Tuesday by the Pentagon.

“This transfer and resettlement constitutes a significant milestone in our effort to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said, thanking Slovakia for taking in the three men.

They had all been cleared since 2008 for release from the detention facility — opened in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States — but Washington refused to return them to China where they faced persecution, and had struggled to find a third country to take them in amid protests from Beijing.

Asked about pressure from China, Ian Moss, spokesman for the State Department's office of the special envoy for the closure of Guantanamo, acknowledged there had been difficulties.

“The United States has worked diligently to generate resettlement opportunities for these three individuals and has engaged a number of different governments to seek their resettlement,” he told AFP.

“It is a challenging task to resettle anyone from Guantanamo, but the Uighurs presented a particularly complex set of circumstances.”

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