The Cambodian government has not yet decided how it will deal with any asylum requests from 22 ethnic minority Uighurs who fled in the wake of violent unrest in China in July, a government spokesman said yesterday.
Government spokesman and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said that the government has not received official confirmation that the 22 are in Cambodia, and will not take a position until that confirmation arrives.
“Up to now I don’t have any information on these people,” he said by telephone. “Not from the police, not from the Chinese government.”
Mr Kanharith added that he would not speculate about the government’s response to Uighurs who might be seeking refugee status in Cambodia. “I don’t talk about ifs,” the minister said.
In Khmer-language press reports, Mr Kanharith was quoted as saying that Cambodia will not deport Uighur asylum seekers if they face execution in China. He denied saying this yesterday.
“Please ask your translators to translate again,” he said.
Representatives of the National Police said on Sunday that the 22 Uighurs, including three children, were under the care of the UN. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ office in Phnom Penh has declined to comment on the case, citing the safety of the asylum seekers.
According to a report from the Reuters news agency, the Chinese Foreign Ministry yesterday announced that it would investigate reports that the Uighurs are in Cambodia.
However, Chinese Embassy spokesman Qian Hai said yesterday that he had received no information about the asylum seekers from either his government or the Cambodian government.
“Everything we’ve heard is through the media,” he said.
Violent clashes between members of the Han Chinese majority and the minority Uighur community in northwestern China killed almost 200 people and injured upwards of 1,000 in July, according to the Chinese official news agency Xinhua.
On Thursday, five Uighurs involved in the riots received death sentences in China. A further nine Uighurs have already been executed.