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Monday, December 21, 2009

China boosts Cambodia aid after Uighurs deported

China signed pacts worth one billion dollars in aid to Cambodia Monday and thanked Phnom Penh for its controversial decision to deport a group of Uighurs seeking refuge back to Chinese soil.

China signed pacts worth one billion dollars in aid to Cambodia Monday and thanked Phnom Penh for its controversial decision to deport a group of Uighurs seeking refuge back to Chinese soil.

The 20 Muslim Uighurs, who had fled the far western Xinjiang region after unrest erupted there in July, were expelled late Saturday as they were seeking asylum in the Cambodian capital, saying they risked torture in China.

Phnom Penh said the group, which Beijing had labelled as "criminals", was expelled in line with domestic law.

But the US, the European Union, the UN and rights groups deplored the move as an apparent breach of an international convention on refugees.

In a statement, the Swedish EU presidency said it was "deeply concerned" about Phnom Penh's action, adding that it showed "a worrying disregard for Cambodia's obligations under international law".

The decision came ahead of a three-day visit by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who held talks Monday with Prime Minister Hun Sen and witnessed the signing of 14 bilateral agreements.

The pacts were worth 1.2 billion dollars in aid and loans to Cambodia, according to government spokesman Khieu Kanharith, who said the two countries agreed to strengthen their relations in all fields.

China and Cambodia have long had close relations, with China previously giving 930 million dollars in aid and loans to the impoverished Southeast Asian nation since 1992, Khieu Kanharith said.

"China has thanked the government of Cambodia for assisting in sending back these people," he said of the Uighurs' deportation. "According to Chinese law, these people are criminals."

Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer said the deportation reflected Beijing's growing clout in the region, saying Phnom Penh's decision was "no doubt influenced by enormous Chinese pressure, backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in aid".

"Governments of countries neighbouring China are reluctant to take any action that would displease Chinese authorities, leaving Uighurs nowhere to flee," Kadeer said.

Clashes between Xinjiang's Uighurs and China's majority Han ethnic group in July left nearly 200 dead and 1,600 injured, according to official tolls.

The violence erupted when Uighurs -- who have long complained of repression under Chinese rule -- attacked members of China's Han ethnic majority. In the days following, mobs of Han roamed the streets seeking revenge.

Last month, nine people were executed for their roles in the violence.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a fax sent to AFP that China had received the group of 20 from Cambodia "in accordance with routine practice".

"China resolutely opposes and cracks down hard on illegal border crossing activities and advocates greater cooperation among the international community to work together to combat crime," Jiang said.

Christophe Peschoux, a representative of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Monday he was "dismayed" by the deportation.

He said Cambodian authorities were "obviously under pressure" when they overturned initially strong assurances that they considered the Uighurs asylum seekers and would complete assessments to see if they were of refugee status.

"This deportation is all the more disturbing in a country that has known massive persecution during the wars and the Khmer rouge regime, and which knows all too well the price and value of refugee protection," he said.
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Deported Uighurs told UN of fears of China return

By TINI TRAN (AP)

BEIJING — Ethnic Uighur asylum-seekers forcibly repatriated over the weekend had warned the U.N. refugee agency they feared long jail terms or even the death penalty if they were sent back to China, according to statements seen Monday by The Associated Press.

The 20 Uighur Muslims had fled to Cambodia in search of asylum after witnessing and documenting violent ethnic riots in the restive western Chinese region of Xinjiang this summer that left nearly 200 dead. They were put on a plane from Phnom Penh to Beijing on Saturday under heavy pressure from China, despite strong protests from the U.S. and the United Nations.
China has called the Uighurs suspected criminals, and on Monday defended the forced returns, saying it was in line with immigration law.

"The Chinese side received the above-mentioned people according to usual practice," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a faxed statement. Jiang refused to say where the Uighurs are being held and whether they had been charged with any crime.

Cambodia said it expelled the Uighurs because they had illegally entered the country. It has since been publicly censured by the U.S., which warned the deportations could hurt their bilateral relations.

But it may have helped cement Cambodia's ties with China, a key ally and major donor to the impoverished Southeast Asian nation. On Monday, China signed over $1.2 billion in aid to Cambodia during a visit there by Vice President Xi Jinping. The assistance, including 14 agreements for grants and loans, ranges from help in building roads to repairing Buddhist temples.

Several of the Uighurs had told the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, in Cambodia, that they feared lengthy imprisonment or even the death penalty if they were returned to China because they had been involved in the summer's ethnic unrest.

Their written statements, which had been provided to the U.N. to support their asylum applications, were obtained independently by The AP Monday. Their names are not being published for fear of retaliation by the government. The statements describe the bloodshed that broke out after security forces cracked down on protesting Uighurs. The unrest, in which Uighurs also clashed with ethnic Han Chinese residents, was widely regarded as the worst ethnic violence in the region for decades.

One man, a 29-year-old from Kashgar, said he had taken photos and videos of the chaos on July 5 in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi. He told of watching and filming from a roof at night as military police clashed with and shot at protesters, and Uighurs fought back with rocks. He said he saw bloodied bodies in the streets.

"I felt like I was in a battlefield. Looking down at the streets full of Uighur bodies, I thought that I was going to die," he said in his statement.

Four days later, he met a foreign reporter on the streets and agreed to turn over the photographs and video footage.

"If I am returned to China, I am sure that I will be sentenced to life imprisonment or the death penalty for my involvement in the Urumqi riots," he said in his statement.

Another 29-year-old witness, from Aksu, who had sold cell phones for a living, said he had joined some 300 protesters in the main square before hundreds of police arrived and began beating them.

"I heard shots fired and became very scared ... The next morning, I went into the street after praying. I saw blood on the streets," he said in his statement.

A third man, a 27-year-old teacher from Aksu, said that before the summer unrest he had been pressed to act as an informant by state security officials who wanted to know if his students were anti-Chinese. They asked him to monitor Uighur communist Web sites. He spent more than a year being tortured and beaten in a re-education camp.

"I can tell the world what is happening to Uighur people and the Chinese authorities do not want this. If returned, I am certain I would be sent to prison," he wrote in his statement.

The group of Uighurs had made the journey from China's far west through to Vietnam and then Cambodia with the help of a network of missionary groups. Two Uighurs fled before the group was forced to return on a special plane sent to Phnom Penh Saturday.

The European Union said Monday it was "deeply concerned" about Cambodia's decision to return the group of Uighurs to China and urged Beijing to respect the rights of the returnees.

"The (Cambodian) government's action shows a worrying disregard for Cambodia's obligations under international law, as well as for specific undertakings given to UNHCR in this case," said a statement from the EU's Swedish presidency.

Earlier, the United States voiced similar concerns, while human rights groups say they fear the Uighurs will be harshly persecuted.

Overseas Uighur groups say Uighurs in China have been rounded up in mass detentions since the summer's violence. China has handed down at least 17 death sentences over the rioting.

Associated Press Writer Isolda Morillo in Beijing contributed to this report.

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Cambodian-Thai conflict 'stems from political personality clash'

Pad Supa, a leading businessman and senator in Koh Kong, has a close connection with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. In an excerpt from an interview with Jakkrit Waewkraihong in Trat, Mr Pad aired his views on development in the Cambodian province and the thorny issues that have marred relations between Cambodia and Thailand.

- What are the government's development plans for Koh Kong, especially its attempt to make the province a special economic area?

The government has laid out broad ideas, from improving all necessary utilities to facilitating business growth. The province is ideal for development because it borders Thailand and is also close to the sea.

- Would high property prices in Koh Kong or any state rules hinder investment?

Land prices are not as expensive as expected. They soared after the opening of Road 48 [from the Thai border province of Trat to Srey Ampel], speculation about Thaksin Shinawatra's plan to invest there and the discovery of natural gas and oil deposits in overlapping maritime areas between Cambodia and Thailand.

- How realistic is Thaksin's plan to invest in Koh Kong?

There's no progress now. Mr Thaksin has no plans to invest here, but he knows many foreign businessmen and could invite them to invest in Koh Kong and the other provinces.

- Has the fishing concession dispute between Thailand and the Koh Kong authorities been solved?

That problem has ended. We've reopened our waters since Dec 4. In fact, we have just adjusted our conditions on fishing near Koh Kong following the appointment of a new governor [Yuth Pouthang].

So far, we've awarded concessions to 200 Thai fishing boats without charging higher fees.

- Will the continuing conflict between the two countries lead to new problems?

That's an issue between the governments. None of the present problems have anything to do with the ordinary people or businessmen. To be honest, They all seem to be personal problems.

- How long do you think the current problems will last?

It will go on for some time, I think. Abhisit Vejjajiva and Hun Sen have still not understood each other.

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Deportation Of Uighur Asylum-Seekers From Cambodia

UN Refugee Agency Deplores Deportation Of Uighur Asylum-Seekers From Cambodia

New York, Dec 21 2009 12:10PM The United Nations refugee agency has voiced deep distress at the forcible return of 20 ethnic Uighurs from China who had filed claims for asylum in Cambodia but whose cases had not yet been heard, saying it was part of a disturbing increase worldwide in such cases.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the forced return of the asylum-seekers on Saturday took place a day after the agency had communicated its concern to the Cambodian Government about the deportations.

“States are bound by the principle of non-refoulement, which applies to both those recognized as refugees and those seeking asylum,” UNHCR said in a press release issued in Geneva.

“The forced return of asylum-seekers without a full examination of their asylum claims is a serious breach of international refugee law.”

UNHCR stressed that “a disturbing pattern of such cases is increasingly evident around the world.”

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