Kyrgyzstan frees half of refugees wanted by Uzbekistan
The 29 men were among more than 450 people who fled across the border into Kyrgyzstan during a violent uprising in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan in May and who had been sheltering in a refugee camp near the border since.
The first of those refugees were scheduled to be flown out of Kyrgyzstan overnight Thursday under a UN plan to resettle them in third countries on grounds that they could face torture if they returned to Uzbekistan.
Prior to their departure, Kyrgyz Prosecutor General Azimbek Beknazarov held a meeting with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Bishkek, Carlos Zaccagnini, and the US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Stephen Young, to decide the fate of the 29 men wanted by Uzbekistan.
Beknazarov told AFP afterwards: "I gave my assent for the release of 14 of the 29 Uzbek men currently being held in the Osh prison. The fate of the remaining 15 will be decided by Kyrgyz courts since they are wanted by Tashkent for serious crimes."
The United States, the UNHCR and human rights groups had been lobbying for the release and relocation of all 29 men and Young appeared angry when he emerged from the talks with Beknazarov, saying the results of the negotiation had been unsatisfactory.
"This is the responsibility of Beknazarov," he told reporters after the meeting.
Beknazarov said the 15 men still in Kyrgyz custody had been accused by Tashkent of various serious offenses including killing of law enforcement officials, fomenting mass disturbances and membership in an extremist organization.
Human rights groups say Uzbek troops killed hundreds of people when they put down an insurrection in Andijan on May 13. Uzbek authorities say 187 people, including troops and police officers, were killed in the violence and describe those who fled to Kyrgyzstan as "terrorists."
Earlier Thursday, Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Felix Kuklov promised that the fate of the 29 Uzbek refugees wanted by Tashkent would be decided in accordance with the United Nations' refugee convention.
The fact that the Uzbeks had been granted official refugee status by the UN refugee agency UNHCR took precedence over bilateral accords with Uzbekistan on exchanges of prisoners, Kulov said.
The first of the refugees in Kyrgyzstan were scheduled to be flown out overnight by the UN refugee agency to other countries, thought to include Scandinavian countries, Australia, Canada and Germany.
Western officials and rights campaigners say that the Uzbek refugees are at risk of being tortured if returned to Uzbekistan, as the use of torture under Uzbek President Islam Karimov's government is said to be widespread.
Copyright (c) 2005 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 07/28/2005 13:57:54
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