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Last Updated: Friday, 29 July 2005, 09:12 GMT 10:12 UK
Uzbek refugees flown to Romania
Uzbek refugees at the airport outside Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
The refugees are expected to be resettled in host countries
Some 440 Uzbek refugees who fled to Kyrgyzstan during a recent political uprising have been flown to Romania.

Among them are 14 people whom Uzbekistan claims led the revolt and wants returned.

The refugees fled eastern Uzbekistan following an uprising in the town of Andijan, which was quashed by Uzbek troops in May.

It is believed most of them will be resettled in Canada, Germany, Australia and Scandinavian countries.

"The Boeing owned by Thai airlines flew at dawn Friday out of Bishkek to Romania with 440 refugees on board," said UN spokesman Olga Grebennikova.

Romania has agreed to provide temporary shelter after being approached by the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Refugee status

The UNHCR hoped to secure the release of another 15 men who are still being detained by Kyrgyz authorities at the request of Uzbekistan, which accuses them of various crimes.

These include killing law enforcement officials, fomenting mass disturbances and being members of an extremist group.

The international community started lobbying Kyrgyzstan after it sent back four Uzbeks and announced it would deport the other detainees.

Human rights organisations as well as the US and the UNHCR warned they were likely to be subjected to torture in their country of origin.

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

Mass killings

Carlos Zaccagnini, head of the UNHCR in Kyrgyzstan, said the agency would "continue to work with the [Kyrgyz] government to ensure the freeing of those who are still locked up".

Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Felix Kulov on Thursday said any decision on the 15 detained Uzbeks would be taken in accordance with the UN's refugee convention.

He said their UN refugee status took precedence over bilateral accords with neighbouring Uzbekistan.

The Uzbek government claims 173 people were killed in the May protest, most of them Islamic militants. It blames the uprising on Islamic extremists and criminals.

But eyewitnesses say 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 placed in a refugee camp.


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