China is again demanding that the United States hand over 17 Chinese Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying they may be tried on terrorism charges in China but will not be tortured.
The 17 Uighurs, members of a sometimes restive minority in far western China, have become an embarrassment to the Bush administration, which no longer calls them enemy combatants but does not want to free them in the United States.
On Wednesday, the administration persuaded an appeals court to block a federal judge's order to release them immediately.
In a report from Beijing Thursday, the state-run Voice of America news agency quoted a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying he hopes Washington will "honour its obligations and fulfil its anti-terrorism commitment" by returning the 17 to China.
Although the White House fears they would be tortured in China, the spokesman, Qin Gang, said Chinese law forbids torture, the news agency said.
The 17 were taken into custody in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001 and ended up in the offshore U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo. U.S. officials now want to be rid of them but have yet to find a third country willing to take them, although Albania accepted five other Uighur detainees in 2006.
Qin said the 17 are members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, listed by the United States as a terrorist group, the Voice of America said.
Reuters, in a separate report, quoted him as saying that "naturally these people should receive the sanction of the law" in China.
"Through various channels we have presented our solemn stance and demands to the U.S. side," he said." We hope the U.S. will take this seriously and repatriate to China as soon as possible these 17 terror suspects."
The Uighur case is among dozens of Guantanamo cases being reviewed by federal judges after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June gave detainees the right to have federal judges review the reason for their detention.