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article imageUruguay denies cold feet on taking Guantanamo detainees

By AFP     Sep 2, 2014 in World

Uruguay denied that it had delayed taking in six detainees from the US military prison at Guantanamo, saying no date for the transfer had been set yet.

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica announced in March that his country had agreed to take detainees from the prison on human rights grounds, helping his US counterpart Barack Obama fulfill his long-delayed promise to close the controversial jail.

But The New York Times reported Monday that after several months of US delays, when a military transfer plane finally arrived to take the men to Uruguay last month, Mujica refused to give the go-ahead, delaying the deal over concerns about its impact on elections in October.

Diego Canepa, an assistant secretary in Mujica's office, denied the report, which cited Obama administration officials.

"At no point has any date been set," Canepa said.

He also denied the newspaper's claim that US Vice President Joe Biden had called Mujica in August "pressing him to resettle the men."

"There was a conversation with Biden but there was in no way any pressure on Mujica," he told journalists.

"There is a commitment that (the six inmates) will be received here and the date is being finalized with the US government."

He said the matter would be settled "within two or three months."

The Times said Hagel had hesitated for several months before approving the transfer deal, worried about whether the men would pose a threat.

He finally approved it in July, setting a transfer date of early August, a US government source told AFP at the time.

But the issue is politically sensitive in an election year when Mujica's successor will be chosen and his leftist Broad Front (FA) party risks losing the legislative majority it has enjoyed since 2005, despite its narrow lead in the polls.

Canepa denied the report that Mujica was avoiding the transfer until after the elections, saying it "does not correspond to reality."

Mujica said in an interview with AFP in July that the men would be treated like any citizen and allowed to travel freely.

The US State Department also said the transfer deal was not at risk.

"While I cannot provide an exact time frame for their arrival to Uruguay, we are continuing to work with the Uruguayan government to make logistical arrangements that work best for both of our governments," said Ian Moss, a department spokesman.

"The important thing to note, however, is that both governments are absolutely committed to transferring these individuals to Uruguay," Moss stressed, adding: "We are very appreciative of Uruguay's generous offer. This truly is a significant humanitarian gesture."

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