BEIJING (Reuters) -- China has demanded that the United States return 17 Chinese Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay to China and not send them to the Pacific island nation of Palau, which has agreed to accept the detainees.
Palau's government said it would accept the detainees, known as Uyghurs, both as a humanitarian gesture and to help President Barack Obama fulfill his promise to close the controversial prison for foreign terrorism suspects on the U.S. naval base in Cuba.
Many in the U.S. Congress oppose transferring them to U.S. soil when the prison is closed.
China sees the 17 as terrorist suspects, and has repeatedly called for their return.
"China demands the U.S. side implement relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council as well as live up to international antiterrorism obligations, stop the transfer of these suspects to any third country and repatriate them to China," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a news conference.
"China opposes any third country accepting these suspects," he added.
"The 17 Chinese terrorist suspects held in Guantanamo are members of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, which has been listed as a terrorist group by the UN Security Council," Qin said.
The Uyghur detainees come from China's largely Muslim region of Xinjiang in the far west, a vastly different landscape from Palau, whose visitor's bureau describes it as the "world's most beautiful tropical paradise" with pristine beaches and unspoiled reefs and caves.
Despite being cleared of terrorism allegations, the Uyghurs remained stuck at Guantanamo Bay while U.S. officials hunted for a country that would take them in.
The group of Uyghurs had been ordered by a U.S. federal judge to be freed in the United States, but an appeals court ruled in April that the judge did not have the authority to give such an order.
Chinese officials have said Uyghur militants seeking an independent "East Turkestan" are among the biggest threats to the country's stability, a key issue ahead of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic on October 1.
But human rights groups and Uyghur activists say Beijing grossly exaggerates the threat to justify harsh controls.