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Uyghurs Flee China, Seek Asylum In Cambodia

Chinese riot police on the streets of Urumqi, in Xinjiang Province
BEIJING (Reuters) -- A group of Uyghurs who have fled China are seeking asylum through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, an overseas activist group said, adding that other would-be refugees had been captured while fleeing China after ethnic riots in their homeland in July.

Two of the 22 Uyghurs who sought asylum through the UNHCR offices in Phnom Penh say they witnessed security forces killing and beating Uighur demonstrators in the far western city of Urumqi on July 5, the Uyghur American Association said.

On that day, demonstrations in Urumqi by Uyghurs protesting fatal attacks on Uyghur workers in South China turned into a violent rampage in which 197 people, mostly Han Chinese, died. Han Chinese crowds launched revenge attacks against Uyghur neighborhoods two days later.

On December 4, a court in Urumqi condemned to death a Uighur man and woman on charges of murder during the July 5 riot, as well as a Han Chinese man for killing three people during the counter-attacks two days later, bringing to 17 the number of people sentenced to death after the riots.

Uyghurs are a Muslim, Turkic speaking ethnic group native to Xinjiang, many of whom chafe under Chinese rule.

In addition to the 22 Uyghurs who made it to Phnom Penh, the exile group said two others were stopped by police when trying to cross from Vietnam to Cambodia. It said 31 Uyghurs were detained in central and southern China for trying to flee or helping others to do so, while another five who tried to enter Vietnam in October are unaccounted for.

Refugees who flee China face a dangerous crossing over the mountainous borders, and risk repatriation while they are still in neighboring countries.

In October an ethnic Mongolian school principal, Batzangaa, was abruptly brought back to China by Chinese police while he and his family were appealing the UNHCR's initial rejection of their refugee application in Ulan Bator. He is still in detention.

Canadian diplomats have been unable despite repeated protests to get consular access to Huseyin Celil, a Uighur refugee with Canadian citizenship deported back to China while visiting relatives in Uzbekistan. He has been jailed in China since 2006.