MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — A former Guantanamo Bay detainee who led hunger strikes as a prisoner and was resettled in Uruguay along with five other ex-inmates said Monday he had requested a meeting with the foreign minister to talk about the men's future in the South American country.
Abu Wa'el Dhiab told The Associated Press that he had requested a meeting with Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa to speak "about everything here."
Dhiab, from Syria, declined to confirm a Washington Post report on Saturday that quoted him as saying he planned a hunger strike outside the U.S. embassy to protest the men's current situation and demand that the United States help them financially.
"I don't know if I'm going to do a hunger strike," Dhiab told the AP. "I will talk about this after the meeting."
Calls to the foreign ministry seeking comment were not immediately returned. A call and email messages to Dhiab's lawyer were also not immediately returned.
Dhiab and five other former detainees — three others from Syria, a Tunisian and a Palestinian — were resettled in Uruguay in December.
All were detained in 2002 for suspected ties to al-Qaida. Like hundreds of others at Guantanamo, the men were held without charge. The U.S. released them because officials determined that they should no longer be considered a threat.
As a humanitarian gesture, President Jose Mujica invited them to resettle here, offering financial and social services support. However, by their own admission, the men have struggled to adjust, and on several occasions have complained about not getting enough help from the Uruguayan government.
They each receive a monthly stipend of 15,000 pesos ($600) from the government and live in a house provided by a union that is overseeing several aspects of their resettlement.
In early February, a controversy erupted when people in Uruguay, a country of 3.3 million, learned that the men had been offered jobs but did not take them.
At the time, two of the men, Adel bin Muhammad El Ouerghi, from Tunisia, and Syrian Omar Abdelahdi Faraj told the AP they wanted to work but first needed to attend to nagging health problems from more than 12 years spent in Guantanamo.
The most vocal of the men has been Dhiab, who for years was at the center of a legal battle at Guantanamo because of repeated hunger strikes he launched to protest his indefinite detention.
Shortly after arriving in Uruguay, he called a press conference to complain that the government needed a better resettlement plan. In February, he also visited neighboring Argentina. While wearing an orange jumpsuit, he told media in Buenos Aires that he planned to seek asylum for himself and the other detainees still in Guantanamo.
Weakened from hunger strikes over the years, Dhiab now gets around on crutches and rarely leaves the house in Uruguay. The Post story also said Dhiab had stopped seeing his doctors and was refusing to accept the government stipend, both of which Dhiab declined to confirm to the AP on Monday.
Two other detainees reached on Monday, El Ouerghi and Ali Husain Shaaban, said they had no knowledge of any plans by Dhiab to launch a hunger strike.
Prengaman reported from Buenos Aires, Argentina.