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Uzbek Refugees Go Missing In Kyrgyzstan

BISHKEK (Reuters) -- An Uzbek asylum seeker and his 11-year-old son may have been forcibly returned from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan where they face the risk of abuse, Human Rights Watch has said.

Rights groups say the Uzbek government, long criticized in the West for human rights violations, jails and tortures dissidents, a charge it denies.

Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are Washington's allies in its war against the Taliban in nearby Afghanistan.

Kyrgyzstan hosts a U.S. military air base while Uzbekistan allows transit supplies for U.S. troops though its territory.

Sanjar Khudaiberganov fled to Kyrgyzstan in 2008 because he feared persecution and ill treatment in Uzbekistan, the Washington-based rights group said.

His brother, Iskander, had been arrested and sentenced to death in 2002 for, among other things, terrorism, conspiracy to overthrow the constitutional order, and subversive activity.

Human Rights Watch said that, according to his wife, Khudaiberganov and his son Sarvarbek Erkinzoda went missing on July 30 after visiting a migration office in Bishkek to extend their registrations.

Khudaiberganov and his family applied for refugee status at the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in June 2008, but their application was under review when they disappeared, HRW said.

"The government of Kyrgyzstan has been complicit in the past in the forced return of asylum seekers to Uzbekistan, despite the risk of torture there," it said late on August 4.

Kyrgyzstan's Interior Ministry said the next day that it was unaware of the case.

"We have no such information," a ministry spokesman said. "The police are always ready to take all measures to find [missing people] when asked to."

The rights group urged Kyrgyzstan to investigate the case and protect the other members of Khudaiberganov's family.

"Given the ongoing threat of forced return from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan, Human Rights Watch also urged UNHCR to expedite the review of refugee claims by Uzbeks and to expedite their resettlement to third countries," it said.

Rights groups say there are thousands of political prisoners in Uzbekistan. Human Rights Watch said last month that dissident poet Yusuf Jumaev (Jumayev) had been tortured in jail, and demanded his release and an investigation.

Tashkent denies any human rights abuses.