Cambodia 'to expel' Uighur Muslims despite fears on China persecution
Cambodia plans to deport at least 20 Muslim Uighurs who fled China, a government official said, despite concerns they will face persecution by Beijing.
Cambodia plans to deport at least 20 Muslim Uighurs who fled China after deadly ethnic violence this year, a government official said on Saturday, despite concerns they will face persecution by Beijing.
The Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim ethnic group which suffer big losses during July riots, were smuggled into Cambodia in recent weeks and applied for asylum at the United Nations refugee agency office in Phnom Penh.
"The Cambodian government is implementing its immigration law. They came to Cambodia illegally without any passports or visas, so we consider them illegal immigrants," said Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong.
Human rights groups say they fear for the lives of the Uighurs if they are deported to China.
"Cambodia will be sending these Uighurs to a terrible fate, possible execution and likely torture," said Amy Reger, a researcher at the Washington-based Uighur American Association.
She cited the case of Shaheer Ali, a Uighur political activist who fled to Nepal in 2000 and was granted refugee status by the United Nations. He was forcibly returned to China from Nepal in 2002 and executed a year later according to state media.
Reger's group received reports at least 20 of the Uighurs were put on a flight to Shanghai early on Saturday. But she said it appeared they had not yet been deported.
Washington is "deeply disturbed" that the Uighurs may be forcibly returned, said John Johnson, U.S. embassy spokesman in Phnom Penh. "The U.S. strongly urges the Cambodian government to honour its commitments under international law."
Cambodia's Foreign Ministry spokesman said he did not know their location.
Uighur demonstrators took the streets in Urumqi on July 5 to protest against Han Chineses' attacks on Uighurs workers at a factory in south China in June which left two Uighurs dead. Hans in Urumqi sought bloody revenge two days later.
World Uighur Congress said that near 800 Uigurs were killed during a week-violence after Han Chineses attacks and following intervention of China forces. The China governmnet put the death toll 197.
U.N. offers help
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office said it believed they were still in Cambodia.
"We have conveyed a message to the Cambodian government to refrain from deporting them," said Kitty McKinsey, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR office.
The U.N. body had offered assistance to the Cambodian government to resolve the case, McKinsey said.
Beijing has called the asylum seekers "criminals", although it has offered no evidence to back up the allegations.
Rights groups say Cambodia is bound by a 1951 convention on refugees pledging not to return asylum-seekers to countries where they will face persecution. Cambodia is one of two Southeast Asian nations to have signed the convention.
When asked about Cambodia's obligations under the 1951 convention, Koy said: "We are implementing our internal laws."
The Uighurs have put Cambodia's leaders in an awkward position ahead of a visit on Sunday by Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping, who is expected to sign 14 agreements related to infrastructure construction, grants and loans.
China is Cambodia's biggest investor, having poured more than $1 billion in foreign direct investment into the country.
East Turkistan was occupied by the communist China in 1949 and its name was changed in 1955.
Many Uighurs resent Han Chinese rule, complaining they're marginalised economically and politically in their own land, while having to tolerate a rising influx of Han Chinese migrants.
Meanwhile, human rights groups accuse Beijing of using claims of "terrorism" as an excuse to crack down on peaceful pro-independence sentiment and expressions of Uighur identity.
Reuters Last Mod: 19 Aralık 2009, 11:34