World Bulletin/News Desk
Uruguay will treat the six detainees it has taken in from the U.S. camp in Guantanamo Bay as "totally free men" who do not represent any security threat, the country's defense minister told Reuters on Monday.
"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.
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.
They had all been held at Guantanamo for more than a decade. They are now being treated at a medical facility for checkups after being flown to Uruguay in a U.S. military transport plane.
In an open letter published on Monday, the Syrian ex-detainee Omar Mahmoud Faraj also said he and the other five men flown from Guantanamo to Uruguay on Sunday would show "only good will" to the country that offered them refugee status.
"I have no words to express how grateful I am for the immense trust that you, the Uruguayan people, have placed in me and the other prisoners by opening the doors to your country," said Faraj, who had been held for 12 years in Guantanamo.
"I wish to assure all Uruguayans, including the government, on behalf of myself and the other prisoners that we will only bring good will and positive contributions to Uruguay, learning Spanish and remaking our lives here."
He concluded the open letter by saying he was a fan of Uruguay's national soccer team and looked forward to supporting them in their next tournament.
Guantanamo was opened by former U.S. President George W. Bush, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, to house "suspects" rounded up overseas. Most of the detainees have never been charged or tried.
The six men flown to Uruguay were cleared for release long ago and are not regarded as security threats. But U.S. authorities did not want to send them home, saying countries such as Syria, where a civil war is raging, were too risky.
"The difference in the tone of voice since the last time I talked with him when he was in Guantanamo and now he is in Uruguay is incredible," Cori Creder told Uruguayan paper El Observador. "He's another person."
Diyab recently mounted a legal challenge against the U.S. military's force-feeding of hunger strikers at Guantanamo.
Seven other prisoners have been transferred from Guantanamo since early November, including three to the republic of Georgia, two to Slovakia, one to Saudi Arabia and one to Kuwait. The prisoner population is still 136.