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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 July 2005, 08:29 GMT 09:29 UK
Uzbek refugees to be given asylum
About 400 Uzbek refugees who fled to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan following an uprising in the city of Andijan are being given new homes abroad.

They are currently being flown out of the border region where they have lived since May.

Canada may have offered them asylum, according to unconfirmed reports.

The Uzbeks wanted Kyrgyzstan to return the refugees, saying some were leaders of the Andijan uprising, which was violently suppressed by Uzbek troops.

But Western governments warned that handing back the refugees would breach international treaties.

They were also concerned the refugees could be mistreated if they were returned to Uzbekistan.

"Today we received three out of five planes with the refugees from [the southern Kyrgyz town of] Osh," Nadyrbek Mamyrov, deputy head of Kyrgyzstan's international Manas airport, told Reuters news agency.

It is thought Canada has offered them homes, but Reuters reported that they were being taken to Romania first.

Pressure on Kyrgyzstan

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.

Almost 500 people fled over the border to Kyrgyzstan, where they have been holed up in a refugee camp.

After the Kyrgyz authorities deported four of the Uzbeks in June, the UN and human rights bodies feared the remaining refugees might also be returned.

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

The Uzbek government blamed the May uprising on Islamic extremists and criminals.

It has been putting huge pressure on Kyrgyzstan to return the refugees, especially 29 individuals whom it claims organised the uprising.

These people have been held by Kyrgyz police and their fate is still unclear.


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