January 27, 2010 / 2:07 PM / 9 years ago

Yemen plans U.S.-funded militant rehab centre

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen will begin building an $11 million rehabilitation center for returning Guantanamo detainees in three months when it expects to receive funding from the United States, a government official said Wednesday.

There are 91 Yemeni detainees left in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Washington suspended transfers to Yemen this month because of a deteriorating security situation in the country, in the throes of a crackdown on a resurgent al Qaeda.

Foreign ministers of Western powers, Gulf states, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey were meeting in London Wednesday to discuss ways to stabilize Yemen as it grapples with al Qaeda, a northern Shi’ite revolt and southern separatism.

“Setting up the center will require $11 million and the U.S. side has announced it is prepared to provide the entire sum,” the official said, declining to be named.

Yemen declared open war on al Qaeda this month, stepping up air strikes and security sweeps after the Yemen-based regional arm of al Qaeda said it was behind a failed December 25 bid to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner.

Western powers and Riyadh fear Yemen will become a failed state, allowing al Qaeda to exploit chaos and use the country as a base for more international attacks.

The Yemeni official said the rehabilitation center will be located either in the capital Sanaa or in the province of Hadramout, home to a number of moderate religious education establishments.

It will be run by Yemen’s ministry of religious endowments, and will likely be headed by an influential cleric known for his moderate views, the official said, without naming him.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s goal to shut Guantanamo, which opened in 2002 to hold foreign terror suspects, within a year of taking office went unfulfilled when the first anniversary of his inauguration passed last week.

The U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday an Uzbek Guantanamo detainee had been sent to Switzerland for resettlement, the latest transfer from the facility.

Three detainees were sent to Slovakia Sunday, two Algerians were sent home last week and 12 detainees were sent to Yemen, Afghanistan and Somaliland in late December.

Guantanamo’s Yemeni detainees present a big challenge to the closure of the prison. Although some have been cleared to go home, the United States says it cannot release them because militant al Qaeda cells are active in Yemen and U.S. officials are concerned those released could join the group.

The global militant group’s Yemen wing shot to international attention after it claimed a bomb attempt of a U.S.-bound plane on December 25.

A task force headed by the U.S. attorney general recommended last week that about 50 Guantanamo prisoners should face indefinite detention and another 35 or so should be prosecuted in criminal or military courts.

Earlier this month, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi said any new program to reorient militants away from their violent ideology would have to be more comprehensive than an effort the government promoted in 2005 and later shelved.

But he said Yemen, the poorest Arab country, lacked the resources to emulate a well-funded rehabilitation program for reformed militants run in neighboring Saudi Arabia.

Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky, editing by Ralph Boulton

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