GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba – Fourteen more captives were sent home to Saudi Arabia from this detention center, the Department of Defense announced Saturday.

“The department expects that there will continue to be other transfers or releases of detainees,” the Pentagon said, estimating the prison camps’ population as of Saturday at “about 450 detainees.”

The transfer was also the first since three Arab captives were found hanging in their cells two weeks ago in what the military described as the first detainee deaths at this four-year-old detention and interrogation center.

One of those who died was Mani Shaman Turki al Utaybi, 30, who had been approved for go home, but was never notified before he killed himself. The Pentagon described one of the men sent home as a man who had been reclassified as “no longer enemy combatant.”

The U.S. military classifies as enemy combatants al-Qaida and Taliban members as well as those with links to them, or those who are sympathetic to the movements.

Lawyers have identified him separately as an Arabic-speaking Saudi citizen who is ethnically Uighur, a Muslim minority mostly ruled today by communist China. His attorneys said he had been told 18 months ago that he was cleared of “enemy combatant” status, and was living in special segregated housing known as Camp Iguana.

Earlier, five other Uighurs of Chinese citizenship were sent to Albania for asylum.

The announcement leaves three men – a Russian, an Algerian and an Egyptian – still held captive on this base with the status of “no longer enemy combatant.”

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By a Miami Herald count, the Defense Department has drastically reduced the number of captives with Saudi citizenship here in just the past month – from 132 to 101 by Saturday, following the repatriation of the 14, the return of the bodies of two who hanged themselves and the release of another group of Saudis last month.

Other nations that have taken home captives include Afghanistan, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Kuwait, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Uganda.

The Pentagon announced the transfer as the first U.S. journalists returned to the Navy base in more than a week. The Office of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered all independent media to leave on June 13 – in the wake of the suicides.

A Dutch radio reporter and French journalist were allowed on the base earlier this week, for first-time tours. The Miami Herald, Reuters and Associated Press news agencies arrived Saturday, as well as an ABC-TV news crew preparing live Nightline broadcasts this week.



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AP-NY-06-24-06 1943EDT


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