ANKARA, 16 June (IRIN) - Six buses carrying Uzbek youths claiming to be relatives of asylum seekers from the Uzbek city of Andijan were turned away from a Kyrgyz camp on Thursday. They were attempting to visit relatives staying at the Sasyk camp in the southern Kyrgyz province of Jalal-abad. There are fears the youths were trying to coerce the asylum seekers to return to Uzbekistan.
"A group of buses with over 100 youngsters, believed to be Uzbeks and said to be relatives, has not been allowed to enter the camp or approach it. That is the situation as it stands now," Carlos Zaccagnini, chief of mission for the office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said from the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.
The 460 asylum seekers fled violence in Andijan last month in which Uzbek military forces fired on demonstrators in the city's main square. The Uzbek authorities say 173 people were killed on 13 May, while human rights activists estimate up to 1,000 civilians may have been killed in Andijan and surrounding villages.
Thursday's incident follows reports on Tuesday that a group of some 50 local Kyrgyz young men approached the camp demanding the asylum seekers return to their country or face violence three days later.
"Reportedly there were some with screwdrivers and knives but the incident did not have a violent outcome," Zaccagnini explained. "They sort of talked to the refugee leaders and told them that they wanted them out. They threatened to be back in force in three days, which is in fact today."
Such threats follow reports that a concerted effort was underway to bus friends and relatives of the asylum seekers across the border to the camp in order to coerce their loved ones to return. Tashkent wants the emigrants back on Uzbek territory because of their alleged involvement in the Andijan violence. UNHCR is carefully monitoring the safety of the asylum seekers at the camp in consultation with the Kyrgyz government.
"All indicators showed they [the Kyrgyz government] were seeking to cooperate with the UN and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in particular," the UNHCR official stressed.
Security in the area remains a source of concern, with reports of other incidents not related to the asylum seekers occurring in the run-up to this month's Kyrgyz presidential elections on 10 July.
In March, demonstrators successfully overthrew the government of former Kyrgyz president Askar Akayev raising questions over possible instability and questioning whether the country's current security apparatus was in complete control.
Meanwhile, across the border in Uzbekistan, four human rights defenders from the Helsinki Committees in Azerbajian, Belarus and Uzbekistan and the Secretariat of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) along with their driver, were detained in their vehicle for about four hours near Andijan on Wednesday. According to an IHF statement, they were forced to leave the region where they were undertaking an investigation into the arrest of members of the Uzbek human rights community, in the aftermath of the Andijan mass killings in May.
"We are appealing to the Uzbek authorities to allow this international team to do its work," stated Aaron Rhodes, IHF's executive director in Vienna.
"The success of civil society initiatives holding the government accountable is the key to peace and stability in Uzbekistan. Many human rights defenders are held in violation of Uzbek and international law. Further repression threatens to lead to a deterioration in human society," he said.
Echoing that view, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the actions of the Uzbek police amounted to taking the delegation into custody.
"Taking an international delegation into custody is a clumsy attempt to intimidate all human rights defenders," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW.
"The diplomatic community in Uzbekistan must send a loud message to the Uzbek government that it will be held accountable for the safety of the IHF delegation and its driver."
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