January 12, 2016 / 2:01 PM / 4 years ago

Ghana president defends decision to accept Guantanamo detainees

ACCRA (Reuters) - Ghana’s president defended on Tuesday its decision to accept two Yememis released from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay and said criticism from Christian leaders that the men could endanger national security was misplaced.

President John Dramani Mahama of Ghana addresses attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York, September 30, 2015. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Mahmud Umar Muhammad Bin Atef and Khalid Muhammad Salih al-Dhuby were transferred to Ghana after being held for more than a decade in Guantanamo, Cuba, the U.S. Defense Department and the Ghana government announced last week.

A grouping of powerful Christian leaders said on Monday the men posed a security threat and should be sent back to Guantanamo, while the main opposition party, the New Patriotic Party, said the government should have consulted more widely before accepting the two men. [nL8N14V4O6]

Comments posted on social media and callers to radio phone-in shows in Ghana have also expressed widespread opposition to their arrival.

President John Mahama said the men posed no threat and would be monitored. Ghana received no money for taking them but would benefit from information from the United States about people arriving in the country who could pose a security threat.

“Any Ghanaian is more in danger of dying from a road accident than from these Guantanamo detainees .... They just want to pick up the pieces of their lives and live normally. We don’t have anything to fear,” Mahama told a news conference.

“Guantanamo has been a blot on the human rights record of the world,” he said, adding ensuring security was a priority for him as president. The men live on a national security compound and are accompanied by a chaperone wherever they go, he said.

National security is a sensitive political issue ahead of what is expected to be a close presidential election in November at which Mahama is running for a second and final term.

Ghana is a peaceful democracy but many say they are concerned about security, in part because of the relative proximity of Islamist militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Ghana is also a devoutly religious country and Mahama said accepting the arrival of the former detainees was in line with Christian principles.

The Yemenis, who were not convicted of a crime, spoke on national radio late on Monday and said they hoped to live peacefully and rebuild their lives in the West African country.

The government has granted permission for the two to remain in Ghana for two years, subject to security clearances.

Editing by Edward McAllister and Alison Williams

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