By SETH MYDANS
Published: December 21, 2009
(CAAI News Media)
BANGKOK — China signed 14 deals with Cambodia on Monday worth approximately $1 billion, two days after Cambodia deported 20 ethnic Uighur asylum seekers under strong pressure from Beijing.
The deportation, in defiance of protests by the United States, the United Nations and human rights groups, came on the day before a visit to Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, by Vice President Xi Jinping of China.
The package of grants and loans was signed at the end of Mr. Xi’s visit. The Cambodian Foreign Ministry quoted Mr. Xi as saying: “It can be said that Sino-Cambodia relations are a model of friendly cooperation.”
The exact value of the agreements was not announced, but the chief government spokesman, Khieu Kanharith, said they were worth $1.2 billion. “China has thanked the government of Cambodia for assisting in sending back these people,” he said. “According to Chinese law, these people are criminals.”
Members of a Turkic-speaking ethnic minority living mostly in western China, the 20 Uighurs said they were fleeing persecution in a crackdown that followed riots in which the Chinese government said at least 197 people were killed.
Hundreds of Uighurs have been detained since then and several people have been executed for involvement in the rioting. At least 43 Uighur men have disappeared, according to Human Rights Watch.
Twenty-two Uighurs entered Cambodia about a month ago, aided by a Christian group that has helped North Koreans fleeing their country. Two of the Uighurs have disappeared, the Cambodian government said.
Before being deported, several of the asylum seekers told the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Cambodia that they feared long jail terms or even the death penalty, according to statements reported by The Associated Press. In the statements, which had been provided to the United Nations in support of asylum applications, the Uighurs described chaotic and bloody scenes during the rioting.
“If I am returned to China, I am sure that I will be sentenced to life imprisonment or the death penalty for my involvement in the Urumqi riots,” said a 29-year-old man.
Another man, a 27-year-old teacher, said: “I can tell the world what is happening to Uighur people, and the Chinese authorities do not want this. If returned, I am certain I would be sent to prison.”
China is Cambodia’s leading investor, committing hundreds of millions of dollars for projects including dams, roads and a headquarters for the government Council of Ministers in Phnom Penh. In October, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China met Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Sen, in Sichuan, China, and concluded a deal worth $853 million.