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China says asylum seeking Uighurs suspected criminals
Beijing, Dec 15 (Agencies):
Published on 15 Dec. 2009 11:50 PM IST
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China said on Tuesday that a group of ethnic Uighurs who have apparently sought asylum with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Cambodia were suspected criminals. The comments by a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman came ahead of a visit by a top Chinese official to Cambodia scheduled for next week. A group of 22 Uighurs have sought asylum including two who said they saw security forces killing and beating Uighur demonstrators in the far western city of Urumqi on July 5, according to the Uighur American Association. On that day, demonstrations in Urumqi by Uighurs protesting against fatal attacks on Uighur workers in South China turned into a violent rampage in which 197 people died, mostly Han Chinese. Han Chinese crowds launched revenge attacks against Uighur neighbourhoods two days later. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the Cambodian Uighurs were wanted men, ahead of a visit to Cambodia by China's Vice-President Xi Jinping early next week. "These people are suspected of crimes, and related departments are investigating," she told a regular news briefing in Beijing, though she did not say what they were suspected of. "I want to say that the international refugee protection system should not become a shelter for criminals to avoid legal punishment," Jiang added. The UNHCR and Cambodian government were working together to interview the Uighurs in an effort to determine their status, a UNHCR spokeswoman said. Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong told Tuesday's Phnom Penh Post the government had received a diplomatic note from China regarding the Uighurs, but did not say what message was conveyed. He said the government was yet to make a decision on the Uighurs because it was still trying to determine if they were "real refugees". China often accuses militants of fomenting ethnic unrest in Xinjiang, though Beijing has provided no evidence so far the 22 Uighurs in Cambodia are connected with such groups. Uighurs are a Muslim, Turkic speaking ethnic group native to Xinjiang, many of whom chafe under Chinese rule. Refugees who flee China face a dangerous crossing over the often mountainous and bleak border, and risk repatriation while still in neighbouring countries. In October, an ethnic Mongolian school principal, Batzangaa, was abruptly brought back to China by Chinese police while he and his family were appealing the UNHCR's initial rejection of their refugee application in Ulan Bator. He is still in detention.

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