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Status of Deported Uighurs Still Unknown

The fates of 20 Muslim Uighurs forcibly returned to China from Cambodia in December remains unknown, but a government official said the case is now up to the Chinese.

“Cambodia does not take any responsibility while these Chinese Uighurs are in China, under Chinese sovereignty,” said Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Cambodia only implemented its own laws on illegal immigrants.”

Twenty-two Uighur asylum seekers traveled to Cambodia late last year, reportedly fleeing unrest in their home province of Xinjiang in July. After filing asylum bids with UNHCR, two fled, and 20, including two children, were forced back to China on Dec. 19, 2009.

Opponents of the deportation said it was made against international law and under pressure from the Chinese government, which handed Cambodia a $1 billion aid package a day after the Uighurs were flown back to China.

Human Rights Watch has since called on the Chinese government to disclose the status and whereabouts of the group and to allow access to UN workers, lawyers and family members.

The group has “disappeared into a black hole,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “There is no information about their whereabouts, no notification of any legal charges against them, and there are no guarantees they are safe from torture and ill treatment.”

Ou Virak, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said both China and Cambodia share responsibility for any risks that befall the group.

“If something happens to those 20 Uighurs, Cambodia will be associated with committing that and is responsible for that, as well as China,” he said.