21 Dec 2009

Cambodia refuses haven to Uighur refugees

6:28 am on 21 December 2009

Cambodia has deported 20 Chinese Uighurs who sought asylum there after fleeing from ethnic riots in Xinjiang in July.

They're believed to have been sent back to China despite warnings by human rights groups that they face torture.

The United Nations refugee agency has strongly condemned the deportation, saying that Cambodia has committed a grave breach of international refugee law. The United States embassy in Phnom Penh has also expressed deep concern about the fate of the 20.

The BBC reports that the decision follows intense pressure by China, which has referred to the group as criminals. Chinese vice-president Xi Jingping was due to arrive in Cambodia on Sunday.

July riots left nearly 200 dead

A protest by Uighurs in the city of Urumqi, in Xinjiang region, erupted into violence in July, leaving at least 197 people dead.

Shops were smashed and vehicles set alight while passers-by were set upon by Uighur rioters in the city, whose population is mostly from China's dominant Han group.

Groups of Han later went looking for revenge as the police struggled to restore order.

Tensions between the different ethnic groups have been growing in recent years. Millions of Han have moved to the region in recent decades, while many Uighurs want more autonomy and rights for their culture and religion than is allowed by Beijing's strict rule.