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40 Pakistani Guantanamo inmates to be freed

May 01, 2004

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WASHINGTON, April 30: The United States has agreed to hand over 40 Pakistanis detained at Guantanamo Bay to Pakistan, sources told Dawn on Friday.

"We have been negotiating their release with our American counterparts and they have agreed to let them go," said Pakistan's deputy chief of mission here, Mohammed Sadiq, when asked to comment on the reports.

Once released, the prisoners will be flown to Pakistan from Cuba. Reports in the international media on Thursday spoke of negotiations in Washington this week between Pakistani and American officials about the fate of more than 30 Pakistani prisoners at the US prison in Cuba.

Mr Sadiq said the prisoners would be taken into custody when they arrived in Pakistan. "They will be interrogated and those found involved in terrorism-related activities will be tried and punished. The intention is not to let the terrorists loose but to determine who among them are innocent and then release them," he said.

Pakistan has sent a three-member team for talks with US defence department officials. Interior ministry official Brig Javed Iqbal Cheema is leading the Pakistani side in the three-day talks that began on Thursday.

Brig Cheema visited the Guantanamo Bay last year with a delegation of military and civil officials from Pakistan for interrogating the prisoners. After the visit, Pakistan informed the US administration that it believed that more than 50 of its citizens at Guantanamo were not directly linked to Al Qaeda or Taliban.

The team insisted that some prisoners listed as Pakistanis were Afghans or from other South Asian states. Most of the prisoners were arrested in Afghanistan after US forces defeated the Taliban regime in December 2001.

US investigators, however, informed Pakistan that they believed that at least 30 Pakistani prisoners in Cuba had links with Taliban or Al Qaeda. Initially, the Pakistan government did not show much interest in securing the release of the prisoners but it changed its stance after the October 2002 election.

Pakistan also raised the issue with US Secretary of State Colin Powell when he visited Islamabad last month. After the talks Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri announced that the two sides had agreed to jointly screen the remaining Pakistani prisoners to determine if some of them could be released.