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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kyrgyzstan Hands Over 5 Refugees

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- Kyrgyzstan has handed back to Uzbekistan five refugees who fled the town of Andijan, the scene of bloody clashes last year when troops put down an uprising, a prison official said Wednesday.

The five were among hundreds of refugees who fled Andijan in May 2005, when witnesses said they saw troops kill hundreds of men, women and children. Uzbekistan wants them back, saying it believes they are criminals.

"Yes, they've been handed over. They are probably there [in Uzbekistan] already," said Samuddin Satarov, head of a pretrial detention facility in the city of Osh where the five had been held.

Satarov said they were sent back in a car. Osh is roughly an hour's drive from the Uzbek border.

The West has condemned Uzbekistan's violent handling of the Andijan uprising and urged Kyrgyzstan not to return the refugees, saying they might face torture or execution at home.

Independent witnesses in Andijan said troops killed at least 700 people when they fired on a large crowd of people who had gathered in the center of town after armed men let 23 businessmen out of jail and seized a local government building.

Uzbekistan denies its troops killed ordinary civilians. It says 187 people died when security forces moved against terrorists whose aim was to overthrow the government and establish an Islamic caliphate.

The lawyer for the five refugees, Khurnisa Makhadinova, confirmed their deportation. Neither Uzbek nor Kyrgyz government officials were available for comment.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has granted refugee status to at least four of them and believes their deportation would violate international law and the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which Kyrgyzstan has signed.

Most refugees have found asylum in the West through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Under Uzbek pressure, Kyrgyzstan's security services handed four refugees back to Uzbekistan in June 2005.