UK asks US to free residents in Guantanamo

By Adrian Croft

LONDON - Britain has asked the United States to release five British residents from Guantanamo Bay in a change of policy that may signal Prime Minister Gordon Brown is taking a more independent stance from Washington.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband sent a formal request to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for the release of the five men, who were legally resident in Britain before their detention but are not British nationals.

The decision marks a shift from the policy of former prime minister Tony Blair's government, which secured the release of all nine British citizens held at the US prison camp in Cuba but maintained it was not responsible for detainees of other nationalities who had simply lived in Britain.

Speculation that Brown, who succeeded Blair in June, will steer a more independent course has been reinforced by some of his ministerial appointments and by one minister's comment that Brown and Bush were unlikely to be "joined together at the hip".

Britain said it was seeking the release and return to Britain of Shaker Aamer, a Saudi national; Jamil el-Banna, who is Jordanian; Omar Deghayes, a Libyan; Binyam Mohamed from Ethiopia; and Abdennour Sameur, an Algerian.

The Blair government had opposed a legal challenge by relatives of several of the men seeking to force London to press for their release from the US detention camp.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States would review the British request, which was "well within the confines of our policy".

The United States has faced strong criticism over the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay. US President George W. Bush has said he would like to close the camp but calls it a necessary tool in the war on terrorism.

- REUTERS

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