China pressured Cambodia to deport Uighur refugees: Wikileaks
China put considerable pressure on Cambodia to deport Uighur refugees requesting political asylum, leaked US diplomatic cables suggest.
The refugees arrived in Cambodia after fleeing China following deadly rioting and a police crackdown in Xinjiang province. Cambodia deported the Uighurs, a Muslim minority, two days before China’s vice president visited Phnom Penh in December 2009, and signed off on a loans and aid package worth about USD 1 billion.
Rights groups accused Cambodia of violating its obligations under international law by deporting asylum seekers to a country where they could face torture or death.
Diplomatic cables from the US embassy in Phnom Penh, which were recently released by Wikileaks, indicate that Cambodian officials were pressured by China to deport the group of 20 Uighurs.
The cables document in detail the unfolding saga, recording meetings between US diplomats, UNHCR officials and Cambodian authorities.
Cambodian authorities initially insisted that they would comply with their international obligations. But their rhetoric changed and echoed Chinese accusations that the asylum seekers were “criminals”.
One cable records a conversation between the US ambassador and Cambodia’s interior minister, during which the minister noted Cambodia’s “difficult position due to pressure from outside forces.”
The fate of the 20 deportees, which included two small children, remains unknown.
“We remain extremely concerned about the fate of the 20 asylum seekers, and we believe they may have been subjected to torture, arbitrary imprisonment, and even execution,” said Amy Reger, of the Uyghur American Association.“Our concerns are heightened because the Chinese government has failed to handle their cases transparently, in spite of the fact that it promised to do so.”
Minority Rights Group documented the case in detail in an essay in the Asia section of its 2010 flagship publication, State of the World’s Minorities, which focused on religious minorities.
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Name: Amy Reger (Uyghur American Association)