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Uzbek Refugee Escapes Handover

A recent decision by Kazakstan to hand a refugee over to the United Nations Hugh Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, is unlikely to have a major impact on relations with its southern neighbour, say analysts, coming as it does in the wake of Russia’s similar decision to deny a request for the extradition of 13 men allegedly implicated in last year’s unrest in Andijan.

The August 15 decision coincided almost exactly with a similar ruling from Moscow. In both cases, investigators were unable to find sufficient proof to warrant extradition of the individuals wanted by Uzbekistan. The UNHCR said the Kazak government shared its concern for the fate of the Uzbek refugee if he were to be sent back home.

Observers say the almost simultaneous demarches from Astana and Moscow will not reduce cooperation with Uzbekistan within the framework of various regional organisations, since that country is fairly dependent politically on both Russia and Kazakstan. NBCentralAsia sources thus incline towards the view that any negative reactions coming out of Tashkent will have little real impact on Uzbek-Kazak relations.

The Uzbek refugee, whose name has not been released, has lived in Kazakstan for the past seven years. He was arrested at the end of June at the request of the Uzbek security forces, on charges of illegal religious activity.

The UNHCR office in Almaty voiced approval for Kazakstan’s actions, which are in accordance with the country’s obligations under the 1951 International Convention on the Rights of Refugees. When Kyrgyzstan faced a similar situation last week, it provoked a storm of international outrage by handing over to Uzbekistan four refugees and one applicant for refugee status, without informing UNHCR in advance.

Nevertheless, NBCentralAsia analysts say Kazakstan is not fulfilling its obligations under international humanitarian law in full. In November 2005, Kazak security forces arrested Muslim cleric Ruhiddin Fahrutdinov, who was accused of religious terrorism and extremism, and extradited him to Uzbekistan. Seventeen other Uzbek citizens, including four who had applied for refugee status, disappeared from Kazakstan last November, only to turn up in custody in Uzbekistan, according to Human Rights Watch. Kazakstan’s security services deny involvement in the secret transfer of these Uzbeks.

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)