December 8, 2014 / 7:13 PM / in 3 years

Guantanamo ex-inmates are 'free men' in Uruguay: defense minister

MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) - Uruguay will treat the six detainees it has taken in from the U.S. camp holding suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay as “totally free men” who do not represent any security threat, the country’s defense minister told Reuters on Monday.

People chat in front of the Hospital Militar (Military Hospital) where 6 ex-inmates from Guantanamo Bay are housed, in Montevideo December 8, 2014. REUTERS/Andres Stapff

“They will not be restricted in any way. Their status is that of refugees and immigrants,” Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro said in a phone interview.

The six men were flown to Uruguay for resettlement on Sunday, the latest step in a slow-moving push by U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration to close the widely-condemned prison where most detainees have never been charged or tried.

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has said the men - four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian - can leave Uruguay whenever they want.

Fernandez Huidobro said all six have formally requested political asylum and that Uruguay “did not fix any condition about them having to stay”.

“That said, I am not a lawyer, there could be something that states they cannot (travel freely) but not a condition that Uruguay has imposed or accepted,” he added.

Uruguay will house the ex-inmates who were all held for more than a decade in Guantanamo together at first, in Montevideo, the small South American country’s capital.

“The security around them is for protecting their privacy, not because they represent a threat,” Fernandez Huidobro said.

“They will live simply. We don’t want them to have to walk around with police, rather with common people, guys who will teach them to drink mate,” he said, referring to a traditional tea Uruguayans drink from a gourd through a metal straw.

Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Kieran Murray

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