BISHKEK, 1 Aug 2005 (IRIN) - The plight of more than a dozen Uzbeks still being held in detention in Kyrgyzstan remains a source of concern following the recent evacuation of over 400 Uzbek refugees from the country.
The office of the Kyrgyz prosecutor general was considering the extradition of 15 Uzbeks, who came to Kyrgyzstan in May and are currently being held in a detention centre in the south, Nurlanbek Jeenaliev, deputy prosecutor general, said in the capital Bishkek on Monday, according to Kyrgyz media reports.
Jeenaliev maintained that they had evidence that the group had been involved in committing grave crimes in Uzbekistan.
Azimbek Beknazarov, Kyrgyzstan's prosecutor general, said last week that the group could be extradited to Uzbekistan and be charged with criminal offences.
"Careful and objective investigations have been carried out with regard to certain Uzbek citizens. If it is found out that they have committed crimes, the office of the prosecutor general will make a decision to pass them to Uzbekistan," Beknazarov said.
Their comments came after 439 Uzbek refugees were flown to Romania by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) early on Friday before being resettled in a third country.
But 15 Uzbeks, including 11 who had been declared refugees by UNHCR, as of Monday remained in custody in the southern city of Osh, following calls for their extradition by Tashkent.
In May, more than 500 Uzbeks fled across the border to Kyrgyzstan, following a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests in the southeastern Uzbek city of Andijan, in which upwards of 1,000 unarmed civilians may have been killed, according to rights groups. The Uzbek government said that the death toll was 187.
But Carlos Zaccagnini, head of the UNHCR mission in Kyrgyzstan, remarked that if Bishkek sent the 15 held in detention back to Uzbekistan it would be violating international commitments of which Kyrgyzstan was a party to.
"They [the Kyrgyz authorities] can do what they want, but they would be violating the [UN] Refugee Convention. Out of the group of 15 - 11 are in fact [UNHCR] mandated refugees already and have got resettlement countries to go to. It would be a great violation of the Refugee Convention," Zaccagnini warned.
As for the four Uzbeks who had not received refugee status, there was no final determination on their cases. "The [Kyrgyz] department of migration denied them the refugee status on Friday. That having been said, however, these four individuals have a right to appeal the decision by the migration department. And all of these would in the meantime not warrant any sanction on the part of the prosecutor general," Zaccagnini explained.
The announcement by the prosecutor general's office to extradite the 15 Uzbeks had been met with criticism by local rights activists.
"We are surprised by the position of General Public Prosecutor Azimbek Beknazarov. It is he who is responsible for the destiny of the remaining 15 people. We hope that Kyrgyzstan will fully comply with its [international] commitments. The matter is only time. We will continue taking efforts to make sure their destinies remain in the centre of the public attention," Edil Baisalov, the leader of the Coalition For Democracy and Civil Society NGO, a local prodemocracy group, said.
Any evidence submitted by Uzbekistan should be reviewed in an open judicial session according to national extradition legislation, Baisalov maintained, adding: "On no account should our country interfere in the internal affairs of a neighbouring country. The matter is only about complete and unconditional observation of the international obligations by Kyrgyzstan as a respected member of the civilized community".
Tursunbek Akun, head of Kyrgyzstan's State Commission on Human Rights, was also taken aback by the actions of the prosecutor general. "I tried to convince him to reconsider his position and to listen to public opinion. However, he is standing his ground. I think that he has intentions to pass these people to Uzbekistan."
Meanwhile, the US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack urged Bishkek on Friday to release the 15 Uzbeks for third country resettlement.
"We in the UNHCR continue to strongly advocate for the transfer of the remaining 15 Uzbek asylum seekers to a third country for resettlement processing," McCormack said. "We hope the Kyrgyz Republic will take immediate steps to ensure that the remaining asylum seekers' human rights are fully protected. We welcome the Kyrgyz Government's pledge to consult with the UNHCR before taking any action on any one of the Uzbek asylum seekers in the Kyrgyz Republic," he added.
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