09/01/2006, 00.00
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Kyrgyzstan forcibly repatriates Uzbek refugees

This was denounced by the UN and Human Rights Watch. Bishkek's initiative appears to be aimed at improving ties with Tashkent. Now the Uzbek refugees, who escaped after the Andijan massacre, risk severe charges and "political" trials.

Bishkek (AsiaNews/HRW) – The Kyrgyz government stands accused by international human rights groups of repatriating Uzbeks who asked for asylum, to improve its ties with Tashkent. Back home, the Uzbeks risk facing severe charges and stiff prison sentences for participating in what the government describes as "anti-state uprising" in Andijan last year, which was suppressed by the Uzbek army with the massacre of hundreds of helpless civilians.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that in August at least four Uzbek citizens who had sought refuge in southern Kyrgyzstan had disappeared. There are fears that they were forcibly repatriated. On August 23, Ilhom Abdunabiev and Bakhtiar Ahmedov disappeared in the city of Osh after they asked the State Committee for Migration and Employment for refugee status. There were more disappearances on August 16 and 17: Valim Babajanov and Saidullo Shakirov. All come from Andijan, where Uzbek security forces fired on a crowd of protesters on 13 May 2005, killing hundreds of people. An opposition political activist who disappeared on 10 July, Isroil Kholdorov, is also from Andijan.

"We're afraid these men have been handed over to Uzbek authorities and that their lives are in danger," said Holly Cartner, HRW Europe and Central Asia director. "Kyrgyzstan is responsible for the safety of refugees and asylum seekers in its territory and it must find these men."

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said eyewitnesses saw men in plainclothes put Babajanov and Shakirov in private cars and drive them away.

The Kyrgyz authorities deny involvement in the disappearances but experts have noted how Kyrgyzstan has been developing a closer relationship with Uzbekistan. The Bishkek authorities have been carrying out operations targeting people held to be "religious extremists" or suspected "terrorists" and they have arrested many Uzbek refugees in the course of these sweeps. This month, a meeting between the presidents of the two states is set to be held in Tashkent. Bishkek is dependent on larger Uzbekistan for energy (gas) sources.

Uzbekistan has already tried and condemned dozens of alleged agitators and revolutionaries to justify last year's massacre, rejecting all calls for an international inquiry into what happened. After the slaughter, hundreds of people fled to Kyrgyzstan: more than 400 refugees were transferred by the United Nations to Romania and Germany in July 2005. In 2005, Kyrgyzstan received international praise for welcoming at least 440 refugees who had fled from Andijan. But on 9 August, it sent four refugees back to Uzbekistan, in a blatant violation of international law. "It is urgent that the UN provides to transfer refugees to another state while they await the outcome of decisions about their status and destinations," added HRW.

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