June 15, 2009 / 2:39 PM / in 10 years

EU ready to help settle Guantanamo ex-detainees

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - European Union member states are ready to help resettle detainees freed from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the EU said on Monday.

In this photo, reviewed by the U.S. Military, a guard stands near the shadow of a detainee at Guantanamo's Camp 5 detention center, at the U.S. Naval Base, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, January 21, 2009. REUTERS/Brennan Linsley/Pool

A joint statement by Brussels and Washington said the EU backed the decision by the United States to close the detention center and set out a framework for cooperation under which member states would be able to receive released detainees.

It said Washington would share with EU member states information about detainees who had been cleared for release and would consider, on a case-by-case basis, contributing to the costs incurred by EU states in receiving former detainees.

“By supporting the U.S. determination to shut down Guantanamo, the EU hopes to contribute to changing U.S. policies and to help the United States turn the page,” the joint declaration said.

The Guantanamo Bay prison camp, opened under former U.S. President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, drew international criticism for holding prisoners indefinitely, many without charge.

U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered the closure of the prison, which now holds 229 detainees, by the end of January.

The 27-nation EU wants to help Obama meet his goal by taking in some detainees cleared for release, and EU officials say member states could accept about 60 former detainees.

But the issue has proved controversial because Europe’s open borders mean a former inmate accepted by one state could travel freely through most of the region.

“It will now be for each country in the EU to decide whether to take detainees from Guantanamo or not, knowing that we have agreed on general principles,” Jonathan Faull, a senior European Commission official, told reporters in Brussels.

He said a member state’s decision to resettle a detainee or detainees could not be vetoed by another EU state.

“It is up to a member state, in its interest and the interest of other member states, to know and share information,” he said. “Other member states can make representations... but the competence to decide whether to admit people in their country is on the member state alone.”

EU ministers agreed this month to share information with each other before accepting anyone for resettlement.

Additional reporting by Bate Felix in Brussels; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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