August 10, 2006

U.N. shocked by Kyrgyz extraditions to Uzbekistan

By Olga Dzyubenko

BISHKEK (Reuters) - The United Nations' refugee agency said
it was shocked by Kyrgyzstan's extradition of five Uzbeks,
adding that the decision to hand the men over to Uzbek
authorities had put their lives at "grave risk."

The five were removed from a remand prison in the southern
city of Osh and driven to the nearby Uzbek border on Wednesday,
according to a Kyrgyz prison official and a lawyer for the men.

The men were the last among hundreds of refugees who fled
the Uzbek town of Andizhan in May 2005 when witnesses said they
saw troops kill hundreds of men, women and children. Uzbekistan
wants them back, saying it has evidence that they are

"This ... is an extremely serious violation of the 1951
Refugee Convention -- which Kyrgyzstan has ratified -- under
which no refugees should be forcibly returned to their country
of origin," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio
Guterres said in a statement on the UNHCR Web site late on

Four of the five were granted refugee status by the United
Nations and the fifth was an asylum seeker.

"This grave breach is a huge disappointment as the
deportees' lives may be at stake," Guterres said. "Kyrgyzstan
has failed to protect these refugees."

The Finnish European Union presidency expressed deep

"The Presidency of the European Union urges the Uzbek
authorities to fully respect all human rights of the extradited
refugees and the asylum seeker," it said in Brussels.

The Kyrgyz government has not commented on the extradition,
which came on the eve of a visit on Thursday to the Central
Asian state by the U.S. assistant secretary of state for South
and Central Asian affairs, Richard Boucher.

The United States maintains a military airbase in
Kyrgyzstan. Boucher, after meeting Foreign Minister Alikbek
Dzhekshenkulov, struck a measured note.

"Certainly we want Kyrgyzstan to stand by its international
obligations but we're still looking into the matter to
determine the facts," he said on Thursday, without elaborating.

Human rights activists also condemned the extradition,
which some said appeared to show Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek
Bakiyev was seeking warmer ties with Uzbek leader Islam

"These men are victims, a gift from our government to Islam
Karimov," Aziza Rasulova, deputy chairwoman of
independent-minded Presidential Commission on Human Rights.

New York-based Human Rights Watch also criticized the move,
saying the men were likely to face torture and execution.

Eyewitnesses in Andizhan in May 2005 said troops killed
hundreds when they fired on a large crowd of people who had
gathered in the center of town after armed men broke 23
businessmen out of jail and seized a local government building.

Uzbekistan denies its troops killed civilians. It says 187
people died when security forces moved against "terrorists"
whose aim was to overthrow the government and establish an
Islamic caliphate.