Cablegate: Cambodian About Face On Uighur Asylum Seekers Portrayed In

DE RUEHPF #0959/01 3561041
R 221041Z DEC 09



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. SUMMARY: The Cambodian press has been following the plight of
the Uighur asylum seekers since their presence in Cambodia became
widely known on December 4. The media excerpts tell an
extraordinary story in itself, and offer a revealing picture of the
Cambodian government's reversal from originally accepting the
Uighurs' status of "persons of concern," to eventually rejecting
them as "illegal immigrants" with ties to a terrorist organization
in China. They were ultimately deported on December 19. END

2. Begin excerpts:

Dec. 5 The Cambodia Daily: Ministry of Interior spokesman General
Khieu Sopheak - "the Uighurs are applying for refugee status in
Cambodia. There are 16 here and they are under the sponsorship of
the UNHCR in Phnom Penh".

Dec. 7 The Cambodia Daily: Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC)
spokesman Khieu Kanharith upped the number of Uighurs from 16 to 22
and stated that he did not know where the group was and that the RGC
was waiting for the UNHCR to take the lead.

Dec. 7 Voice of America Khmer service: Ministry of Foreign Affairs
spokesman Koy Kuong said he has spoken to a UNHCR official who
confirmed that 22 Uighurs, including three children, are now under
UNHCR care in Phnom Penh.
"The ministry is now waiting for recommendations from UNHCR on their
final decision for the 22 'persons of concern'" Koy Kuong said,
adding that the government would cooperate with the agency.
Khieu Sopheak said Monday the government had not yet received any
information from UNHCR. "If the government learns the Uighurs have
no legal documents, they will be returned to their port of entry."

Dec. 9 The Cambodia Daily: Khieu Kanharith stated that the RGC had
not received official confirmation that the group was in the country
and would not speculate on the potential response. Khmer language
press quoted Khieu Kanharith as saying that the RGC would not deport
the group if they faced execution but he later denied this.

Dec 16 The Cambodia Daily: Chinese spokeswoman in Beijing accused
Uighurs in Cambodia of being "wanted criminals".
Dec. 17 The Cambodia Daily: National Police spokesman Kirth
Chantharith said the police have no instructions to round up the
group and that they are "under the protection of the UNHCR". Koy
Koung stated that "The UNHCR and the Cambodian authorities are
cooperating with each other to interview them. Right now we have to
discuss about the procedure to review their applications." He added
that the interviews had not yet begun.

Dec. 17 Voice of America Khmer service: Cambodia is cooperating with
the UN's refugee agency in Phnom Penh to determine the status of 22
Uighur asylum seekers who fled China, officials said Wednesday.

China has meanwhile sent a diplomatic note to the government
concerning the status of the Uighurs, said Koy Kuong, a spokesman
for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"Our Cambodian position is not to do anything yet," Koy Kuong said.
"We are waiting for the results of their interviews, because now
they have received 'persons of concern' status. With this, they are
not yet up to refugee status, so they are still cooperating with
Cambodian authorities in interviews to decide who is a real

Cambodian officials have said that they will return anyone who does
not receive refugee status.

UNHCR's country director, Toshitsuki Kawauchi, said local
authorities have cooperated with the agency. He declined to speak
specifically about the Uighurs, but said there was "no information
that any asylum seekers or refugees are in danger."

Dec 17 Phnom Penh Post: Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, said Amnesty's concerns were "premature," and that
the government, with UNHCR's assistance, was conducting interviews
to determine whether the Uighurs are eligible for refugee status.

"China and Cambodia are both sovereign states, so neither one can
put pressure on the other," he said.

"It is premature for Amnesty International to say that the Chinese
government will put pressure on the Cambodian government. This idea
is wrong."

Koy Kuong said he did not know whether the Uighur issue would be
raised during upcoming talks with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping,
who is scheduled to arrive in Cambodia for a two-day visit Sunday.

PHNOM PENH 00000959 002 OF 002

Dec. 18 Voice of America Khmer service: The Chinese Muslims from
China's restive Xinjiang province, the site of violent anti-Chinese
protests in July, entered Cambodia last month and were given a
"people of concern" status by the UN refugee agency before they and
were taken to police custody for violating immigration law.

"They are not real refugees," Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu
Sopheak told VOA Khmer by phone late Friday night. "They will have
to leave Cambodia in no later than one week."

Earlier reports said that twenty-two Uighurs, including three
children, arrived in Cambodia overland, but in an interview with VOA
on Friday spokesman for Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Koy Kuong, said
authorities are now taking control of only 20 and have no knowledge
of two others.

Dec. 19 The Cambodia Daily: General Khieu Sopheak stated that the
Uighurs are "criminals escaping from China and involved with a
terrorist organization in China. If they were really refugees, how
did they know where the UNHCR office is in Phnom Penh? And when
they arrived in Cambodia they had their people pick them up from the
ferry. We don't care if China asks us or not. They are illegal
immigrants so we have to apply the law. They are going back the way
they came."

Koy Koung stated that the RGC considers them illegal immigrants
because they entered the country without documentation. "They came
illegally, without passports or visas, and they violated Cambodian
immigration law and they have to be expelled from the country."

Dec. 21 The Cambodia Daily: General Khieu Sopheak noted that 20 of
the 22 Uighurs who sought refuge in Cambodia were put on a plane to
China at about 9pm on Saturday night. "They were deported at 9
o'clock last night. They went back on a Chinese plane". He also
said the government decided to send the asylum seekers back to China
after an investigation revealed that they were criminals connected
to a terrorist group in China, which he declined to name. "They
were led to Cambodia by a leader of a terrorist group, but I do not
want to mention the name. If they are civilians why didn't they
report to the Cambodian government?" he asked.

Spokesman for the Council of Ministers Phay Siphan stated that the
Uighurs were named in a "Chinese criminal list" and that the
government had deported them because of its "obligations as a
sovereign state". He attributed the government's decision to
Cambodia's poverty, stating that "Cambodia is a poor country which
cannot feed the Uighurs for very long. We practiced the law as
written since they were criminals".

Dec. 22 Phnom Penh Post: "China has thanked the government of
Cambodia for assisting in sending back those people to China,
because they are criminals under Chinese law," government spokesman
Khieu Kanarith told reporters after a ceremony in which Chinese Vice
President Xi Jinping and senior Cambodian officials signed 14
economic aid agreements totaling US$1.2 billion.

Dec. 22 Voice of America Khmer service: Foreign Ministry
spokesperson Koy Koung responded to criticism of the government's
deportation of 20 Uighur asylum seekers by stating "the
international community continually urges Cambodia to respect the
rule of law and that is what the government is doing in this case".
He noted that the immigration law of 1994 had been used in this
situation and that the law was applied fairly and without
discrimination. Mr. Kuong also noted that the image of Cambodia
will not be undermined by the deportation of the Uighurs since the
government was applying its own laws to illegal immigrants who had
entered the country without proper documentation.


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