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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bishkek to Send Back 15 Uzbeks

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- Kyrgyz authorities intend to repatriate 15 Uzbeks despite objections that it would violate international conventions on the rights of refugees, a deputy chief prosecutor said Monday.

Kyrgyzstan refused to let the 15 be temporarily relocated last week to Romania along with 440 others who fled to neighboring Kyrgyzstan in May after Uzbek security forces violently suppressed an uprising in the eastern city of Andijan.

"We will insist and suggest that the remaining 15 men be handed over to Uzbekistan," deputy chief prosecutor Nurlan Jeenaliyev said.

The Prosecutor General's Office said in a statement Monday that it had "reliable evidence that the 15 have been involved in committing serious crimes."

Uzbekistan has demanded the deportation of the refugees to face charges including murder and terrorism.

Eleven of the 15, who are being held in detention in the southern city of Osh, have been declared refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Carlos Zaccagnini, head of the UN refugee agency's mission to Kyrgyzstan, said the UNHCR had appealed the Kyrgyz authorities' decision to deny the other four refugee status. He said the appeal process was expected to be completed this week.

The U.S. Embassy urged the Kyrgyz government Monday to take "immediate steps to protect the rights of the refugees remaining" in the country.

"We, together with the UNHCR, are still resolutely in favor of transferring the remaining 15 Uzbek asylum seekers to a third country for further resettlement procedures," the embassy said in a statement.

Despite international calls to respect the refugees' rights, Kyrgyzstan in recent weeks has secretly sent at least 89 Uzbek refugees back home, where they could face prosecution. The deportations prompted the United Nations to send refugees to a third country.

The prosecutor's office said extradition would not violate international law if the detainees are proven to have committed crimes of a "nonpolitical nature."