China says investigating Uighur asylum case

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday it was investigating an apparent asylum request lodged with the the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees by a group of Uighurs in Cambodia.

Two of the 22 Uighurs who sought asylum through the UNHCR offices in Phnom Penh say they witnessed security forces killing and beating Uighur demonstrators in the far western Chinese city of Urumqi on July 5, the Uighur American Association said.

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 officials were investigating reports of the asylum claims.

"Related departments are at present looking into the situation," she told a regular news briefing in Beijing.

"We have a good cooperative relationship with Cambodia on every level," Jiang added. "We hope the international community can enhance cooperation in the fight against terrorism."

China often accuses militants of formenting ethnic unrest in Xinjiang, though Beijing has provided no evidence so far that the 22 Uighurs in Cambodia are connected with such groups.

The UNHCR in Phnom Penh declined comment.

But a foreign human rights activist, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters the group would submit asylum applications to both the Cambodian government and the UNHCR.

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.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Ek Madra in Phnom Penh; Editing by Ron Popeski)


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