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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 July 2005, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
Kyrgyzstan to halt repatriations
Uzbek women dry clothes at a refugee camp at the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border
About 500 Uzbek refugees are sheltering in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan has called a partial halt to the repatriation of refugees who fled Uzbekistan in May, after a bloody crackdown in the Uzbek city of Andijan.

Foreign Minister Rosa Otunbayeva said no Uzbeks would be returned unless the country's situation changed.

However, the chief prosecutor said 12 Uzbeks who are already convicted criminals will still be repatriated.

Hundreds of refugees sought shelter in Kyrgyzstan after Uzbek government troops fired on protesters in Andijan.

Criminal status

Kyrgyzstan's government has already sent back four Uzbeks and announced it would deport 29 more.

The United Nations has said the decision to return refugees violated international conventions.

Map showing Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

Top Kyrgyz prosecutor Azimbek Beknazarov, who has spearheaded moves to deport the Uzbeks, said on Tuesday that 12 Uzbeks would still be returned because, as convicted criminals, they did not have refugee status.

Last month he described the Uzbeks as criminals who broke out of jail before their protest was suppressed.

"They need to be punished, their place is in prison," he said.

Asylum offer

In Kazakhstan, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was extremely concerned by the arrest of an Uzbek human rights worker who had been granted refugee status.

The Kazakh police said the man, Lutfulo Shamsuddinov, had been detained in the country's main city, Almaty, at the request of the Uzbek authorities.

UN spokesman Ron Redmond said the UN urged the Kazakh authorities not to return the man, adding that a Western country was ready to offer him asylum.

The Uzbek government said 173 people were killed in the May protest, most of them Islamic militants. But eyewitnesses dispute this, saying up to 500 people were killed in Andijan, among them women and children.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has appealed to Kyrgyzstan's government "to strictly abide by its international obligations in the treatment of asylum-seekers".

He urged the government of Uzbekistan "to refrain from any action aimed at ensuring forcible return of Uzbek asylum-seekers to their country".


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