SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- Two former prisoners from Guantanamo who were transferred to El Salvador 17 months ago have quietly slipped out of this Central American nation.
When and how the two men, both ethnic Uighurs, left El Salvador is unknown, but their departure is sure to fuel worries that the United States has lost track of some Guantanamo detainees who have been released.
U.S. officials declined to say when they became aware that the former prisoners were no longer in El Salvador.
Uighurs familiar with the case said it is likely the two men headed to Turkey.
We are aware that the two Uighurs who were resettled in El Salvador departed the country. However, we will not comment on the specifics of their decision to resettle elsewhere or their current whereabouts, said Ian C. Moss, a spokesman for the State Departments special envoy for Guantanamo closure.
Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers) are a Muslim ethnic minority that inhabit far-western China. Many Uighurs oppose what they consider the Chinese occupation of their homeland, and some have engaged in armed resistance against Chinese control. Although Uighurs are considered Chinese nationals, most refuse to carry a Chinese passport, and mystery surrounds what travel documents the two men would have used to leave El Salvador.
The two men, Abdul Razak and Ahmad Muhamman, were among 22 ethnic Uighurs sent to the U.S. detention center at the Guantanamo Bay naval base since 2002. Three Uighurs remain at the prison camp.
The other 19 have been freed and transferred to receptive host countries or territories, beginning in 2006 when Albania accepted a group of five. Subsequently, six Uighur detainees were sent to the South Pacific island of Palau, two to Switzerland and four to Bermuda, a British overseas territory.
Razak and Muhamman were freed from Guantanamo on April 19, 2012, and flown to El Salvador, a largely Christian, Spanish-speaking nation with only a few thousand practicing Muslims.
A spokeswoman for El Salvadors Foreign Ministry, Irene Sanchez, said the two were given refugee status in her country but refused to say anything further, noting that the nation guarantees the right to privacy and confidentiality.
Most of the Uighurs sent to Guantanamo were detained in Pakistan in early 2002 after fleeing an encampment in Afghanistans Tora Bora mountains. Even after the U.S. government conceded before a federal court in 2008 that it did not consider the Uighur detainees enemy combatants, it had difficulty finding host governments to take them. None was willing to return to China.
At a minimum, they would face life imprisonment there, or the death penalty, said Nuri Musabay, the secretary general of the World Uyghur Congress, an exile group that advocates for greater autonomy for the Uighurs inside China.
Without valid travel documents, it was unknown how the two Uighurs passed immigration. Justice and Public Security Minister Ricardo Perdomo, who is in charge of the nations borders, did not respond to an email.
Musabay said he didnt know where the two Uighurs went but said Turkey would be a logical choice since it is like a European democratic country. Another Uighur in exile, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said at least one of the Uighurs was in Turkey.
Turkeys Uighur population has sharply increased over the last five or six years, Musabay said, adding that the Uighur language is related to Turkish.