US to release jailed Britons soon, PM says

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Indy Politics

A deal to return Britons imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay was "weeks away" Tony Blair insisted last night.

The Prime Minister denied that he had been holding up plans to bring back the nine British men who are detained at the US-run Camp Delta, as claimed by one man's solicitor. A deal over the release of the nine, including two classed as high-risk US enemy combatants, had been expected to be announced during US President George Bush's recent state visit, but now seems close to completion.

Mr Blair said yesterday in an interview on BBC's Breakfast with Frost: "I think it will be resolved one way or another in the next few weeks but I can't say exactly at this juncture how it will be resolved."

Pierre Richard Prosper, the US Ambassador at Large for War Crimes, has said detainees will be allowed home if their countries can "manage" them.

But Mr Blair said the nine would not come back to the UK if they posed a security risk. "We do need to be very, very clear about one thing. The people who were detained at Guantanamo Bay were detained arising out of the conflict in Afghanistan and activities of al- Qa'ida there," Mr Blair said.

"Without saying anything that prejudges whether they might be guilty or not guilty, it is extremely important that we balance up the absolutely proper consideration that they get a fair and decent trial with the need to protect people in this country."

Stephen Jakobi, the director of Fair Trials Abroad, said last night that there was pressure now on the Bush administration to secure a deal and "get the British and the Europeans out of the way".

He said: "This has taken six months because the Americans are either trying to get them back in wholly unacceptable human rights terms, or wanting to try them unfairly by military tribunal and that's why there's no deal."

He added: "I'm extremely concerned about all these games in the name of security which have nothing to do with security but have everything to do with public relations."