June 27, 2005

U.N. seeks to move Uzbek refugees to third states

By Olga Dzyubenko

BISHKEK (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Monday itwanted to move hundreds of Uzbek refugees to third countriesfrom camps in Kyrgyzstan because there were fears Uzbekistanmight try to snatch them and take them home by force.

More than 500 Uzbeks fled to Kyrgyzstan after troops shotinto a crowd to put down an uprising last month. More than 400refugees are now stranded in a refugee camp in Sasyk in thesouth of the country.

Following the forced deportation of four Uzbeks byKyrgyzstan, the U.N. and human rights bodies have voiced fearsthat remaining asylum seekers might also be returned and facetorture or execution in their native state.

And a top U.N. official said on Monday that there werereports that Uzbek security officers dressed in civilianclothes had often been seen near the refugee camp in Sasyk.

"We have heard some rumors that the Uzbeks might even takethese people back. I hope it is not true," Kamel Morjane, U.N.Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, told a newsconference.

"We'll do our best, as the UNHCR, to take a maximum ofpeople outside. The situation is not easy," Morjane said at theend of a three-day mission to Kyrgyzstan. Asked where therefugees could be moved from Kyrgyzstan, he said: "There is theUnited States, many Nordic countries, Canada, Australia, NewZealand ... We will accelerate this operation and I hope wewill have a positive reply." He did not elaborate.

Morjane flew to the impoverished Central Asian nation lastweekend after the U.N. received information that the ProsecutorGeneral had asked for an additional 103 Uzbek refugees to betaken out of the camp and be put in detention.

Twenty-nine Uzbeks had been earlier put into a detentioncenter in the southern Kyrgyz town of Osh, and KyrgyzProsecutor General Azimbek Beknazarov said last week they wouldbe deported because they were criminals who broke out of jail.

Hundreds crossed into Kyrgyzstan from the eastern Uzbektown of Andizhan on May 14, a day after police opened fire on acrowd of armed rebels and civilian protesters, killing some500, according to witnesses.

Uzbekistan, a Muslim state of 26 million run by PresidentIslam Karimov with an iron hand since Soviet times, says 176people were killed, many of them "bandits" or "terrorists."

Human rights bodies have expressed fears that Kyrgyzstanmay give in to pressure by its bigger and much strongerneighbor and hand back the refugees.

Morjane urged the Kyrgyz authorities, under ActingPresident Kurmanbek Bakiyev, to stay committed to internationalconventions on refugees and torture.

"I do hope that what the Acting President said yesterday --and he confirmed this to me this morning -- that there will beno other forced returns to Uzbekistan," Morjane said. "Weshould guarantee an objective and independent trial for everyperson."