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UN Says Uzbek Refugee Issue Pressing

Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan United Nations, 1 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, is under growing pressure to resettle around 450 Uzbek asylum seekers stranded in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said today in New York that the Kyrgyz government assured the UN again that it will abide by its international obligations. However, Dujarric says, Uzbekistan is demanding the return of the refugees, many of whom, Tashkent claims, are criminals.

"The UN refugee agency reports that it's holding an urgent meeting today in Geneva to try to find emergency resettlement for some 450 Uzbek asylum seekers [that are currently] in Kyrgyzstan. Resettlement is needed in part because Kyrgyzstan is coming under pressure from Uzbekistan to return the refugees.

On 27 June, the UNHCR said that the status of these asylum seekers will be determined by the end of the week but as of today it is not yet clarified. Several countries, among them, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have expressed a willingness to accommodate the Uzbek asylum seekers, negotiations with the UNHCR are continuing in Geneva.

Dujarric said that Annan spoke again on 29 June with acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev and that he again asked Bishkek not to forcibly repatriate the refugees.

"[UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan] did have a conversation with the Kyrgyz president recently. It was again stressing the importance on Kyrgyz authorities not to conduct the forced repatriation of Uzbek refugees."

On 9 June, Kyrgyz authorities -- under pressure from Uzbekistan -- forcefully returned four refugees. Their fate remains unknown. Tashkent rebuffed international agencies inquiries about their whereabouts.

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