Freed Uighur detainees get work at Bermuda golf club

08/05/2009 4:07 PM

10/13/2010 9:10 PM

Four Muslims from China once confined to small prison cells as suspected terrorists at Guantánamo are now sprucing up the wide-open spaces of an oceanside golf course for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf.

The Uighurs who moved to the British island territory in June have joined crews working toward the October tournament, said Wendall Brown, chairman of the board of trustees for Bermuda's public golf courses.

They were hired on a temporary basis after five Filipino workers quit ahead of schedule, Brown said Tuesday.

Steve Johnson, who oversees landscaping and land cultivation for the golf courses, said the new hires are doing ``very well'' in their jobs.

``They have only just started, but they are doing what everyone else does, starting at the bottom and fitting in,'' he said Tuesday.

The Uighurs -- Turkic Muslims from far western China -- were held in Guantánamo Bay for roughly seven years following their capture in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001.

The Pentagon determined they did not pose a threat, but the State Department forbade their repatriation to China because of fears they might be persecuted for their separatist beliefs.

In June, Bermudian Premier Ewart Brown announced he had agreed to take the refugees as guest workers, surprising many local officials and angering the British government, which said he should have consulted with it first.

The Uighurs will continue working on the Port Royal Golf Course until the start of the tournament, which offers a $1.35 million dollar purse and will draw winners of the sport's four major championships.

The Uighurs' attorney, Richard Horseman, recently said that his clients were eager to find jobs and ``become productive citizens.''

Brown said he does not know if the four men are being paid for their work or if they will be kept on staff after the tournament ends.

Separately, a deal is close to send some of the 13 Uighurs still at Guantánamo to the remote Pacific nation of Palau, according to a lawyer for two of them.

Uighur detainees met with U.S. State Department officials on Monday and told diplomats they are now willing to move to Palau, said lawyer George Clarke, who took part in the talks. Once a deal is struck, it is expected to take weeks to organize their transfer.

Several of the men at the U.S. base in Cuba pleaded with President Barack Obama to secure their release in a letter released Wednesday by lawyers for the men. ``We need freedom,'' the translated letter signed by nine Uighurs says. ``We need a country who can guarantee our safety . . . Seven years of the beautiful times of our lives have been spent in prison cell blocks, wire and cement cages.''

Lawyers for the men said the letter was written March 8 but only recently cleared for public release by government security officials.

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