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Central Asia: Kyrgyzstan Under Fire Over Missing Uzbek Asylum Seekers

(RFE/RL) Four Uzbek asylum seekers who had sought shelter in southern Kyrgyzstan after the bloody crackdown in Andijon in May 2005 have gone missing in the past week. At least two were reportedly whisked to Uzbekistan. Rights groups and foreign governments are urging Kyrgyzstan to abide by its international obligations and ensure the safety of any Uzbek refugees or asylum seekers on Kyrgyz territory. The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is meanwhile considering resettling 65 Uzbek refugees and asylum seekers living around Osh to a safer place.

PRAGUE, August 25, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Last week, men in plainclothes presenting themselves as Kyrgyz security officials appeared at the temporary homes of Valijon Bobojonov and Saidullo Shokirov. Then they loaded them into cars and drove them away.

Although the men who appeared at Bobojonov's house reportedly vowed to return him soon, the 40-year-old asylum seeker has not returned.

A few days after he was taken away, he was reportedly in custody in Andijon, where human rights activists fear his life could be at risk. Shokirov is said to have met a similar fate.

Officials Deny Knowledge

Uzbek authorities have denied any knowledge of the two men's whereabouts.

On August 22, a pro-government website ( quoted Uzbek security officials as saying thatneither Bobojonov nor Shokirov are sought for alleged roles in the antigovernment uprising that led to last year's bloodshed.
Just a few hours before being reported missing, Bakhtiyor Ahmedov and Ilhom Abdunabiev were on the premises of Kyrgyzstan's State Committee on Migration and Employment.

Uzbek authorities have prosecuted more than 100 Andijon residents for their alleged roles in the violence, and have demanded the extradition of at least one Kyrgyz and 12 Uzbek nationals who are currently in Russian custody.

The Kyrgyz government has not commented on last week's disappearances.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek, Azamat Ababakirov, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on August 24 that the United States has issued a statement urging Kyrgyz authorities to face their responsibilities.

"According to information provided by the [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)] and Kyrgyz nongovernmental organizations, those two [asylum seekers] are currently being held in a pretrial detention center in the Uzbek city of Andijon," Ababakirov said. "We urge the Kyrgyz government to swiftly and fully investigate those reports. We urge the Kyrgyz government to take immediate steps to ensure the safety and rights of all refugees and people awaiting refugee status."

Shortly afterward, news emerged that two more Uzbek asylum seekers had disappeared from their accommodations in Osh.

The head of the local branch of Kyrgyzstan's State Committee on Migration and Employment, Nurila Yoldasheva, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that she was informed of these latest disappearances on August 23.

"[On August 23] we were informed that two [more] people had disappeared," Yoldasheva said. "Those two people are Bakhtiyor Ahmedov and Ilhom Abdunabiev."

...Despite Contact

What Yoldasheva did not say, however, is that just a few hours before being reported missing, the two men were on the premises of her department.

Solijon Mayitov, who heads the nongovernmental group Osh Justice (Osh Adilettigi), told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that the circumstances of the latest disappearances remain unclear.

"On the morning [of August 23], [Ahmedov and Abdunabiev] were summoned to the [local branch of the] Committee on Migration and Employment," Mayitov said. "Upon leaving the building, they got into a collective taxi. Their whereabouts since then have been unknown."

Mayitov said he fears Ahmedov and Abdunabiev may have been handed over to Uzbek authorities as well.

"We suppose those two men -- like the other two who disappeared earlier -- were in one way or another secretly taken out of Kyrgyzstan," Mayitov said.

International Concern

In New York, the watchdog Human Rights Watch has expressed similar concerns.

HRW Europe and Central Asia Director Holly Cartner wrote in a statement issued today that the group is "afraid these [four] men have been handed over to Uzbek authorities and that their lives are in danger."

Last month (July 10), an exiled activist of Uzbekistan's "Erk" opposition party, Isroil Holdorov, also disappeared in Osh.

Describing security conditions in southern Kyrgyzstan as "dire," HRW today called upon the UNHCR to move refugees "straight to the capital" Bishkek.

Talking to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service from Geneva, UNHCR spokeswoman Helene Caux said the organization was actually considering resettling all 65 registered Andijon refugees and asylum seekers from Osh.

"We are not able to provide complete protection to these people, so we're trying to get them out of Osh because five people have already disappeared in less than two months," Caux said. "It cannot continue like this."

International organizations and foreign governments severely criticized Kyrgyzstan in early August for deporting four UN refugees and one asylym seeker to Uzbekistan.

The four -- Zhahongir Maqsudov, Yaqub Toshboev, Odilzhon Rahimov, Rasulzhon Pirmatov and Fayoz Tojihalilov -- had been arrested on Uzbek warrants in June and September of last year. Up until their deportations, they had remained in custody at Osh prison.

Uzbek authorities said all five were immediately charged with having actively participated in the Andijon unrest.

In a statement issued one day after the August 9 extraditions, the European Union's Finnish Presidency called Kyrgyzstan's decision "an extremely serious violation" of a 1951 Refugee Convention. That convention states that "no refugee should be forcibly returned to their country of origin."

Kyrgyzstan's ombudsman, Tursunbai Bakir-uulu, has accused the Kyrgyz government of allowing Uzbek security services to operate freely in Osh Region, which is home to dozens of former Andijon residents.

As a result, Bakir-uulu said, even Kyrgyzstan's ethnic Uzbeks live in fear.

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