CHINA has thanked Cambodia for deporting 20 ethnic Uighurs who travelled to the Kingdom in a bid to seek political asylum, a government official said on Monday.
The Uighurs, part of a group of 22 – two remain on the run – who fled ethnic violence in China’s restive Xinjiang province in July, were forcibly deported to China on Saturday night after being detained by Cambodian police a day earlier.
“China has thanked the government of Cambodia for assisting in sending back those people to China, because they are criminals under Chinese law,” government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told reporters after a ceremony in which Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and senior Cambodian officials signed 14 economic aid agreements totalling US$1.2 billion.
Xi’s three-day visit has been overshadowed by a storm of protests over the deportation, which rights groups have labelled a “grave breach” of international law. A statement issued by acting US state department spokesman Gordon Daguid on Monday said the US “strongly opposed” the deportation, warning it would “affect Cambodia’s relationship with the US and its international standing”.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the deportation was clearly linked to the arrival of Xi on Sunday and the incentives promised by his visit.
Officials “want to be showing good will during the visit of the Chinese vice president”, he said, adding that the credibility of the Cambodian government is “very shaky” in the wake of the deportation.
Also Monday, UN High Commissioner for Refugees officials met with diplomats to brief them on steps the agency is taking in the aftermath of the deportation, said Andrew Mace, the British ambassador to Cambodia. Mace said UNHCR officials had also met with the Foreign Ministry on Monday morning to discuss the issue.
In a faxed statement issued Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said China had received the Uighurs “in accordance with routine practice”.
“China resolutely opposes ... illegal border-crossing activities and advocates greater cooperation among the international community to work together to combat crime,” she said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP