Published Date: 23 December 2009
By Cara Anna and Ben Blanchard
(CAAI News Media)
BEIJING has denied that £750 million in aid it gave to Cambodia was linked to the south-east Asian nation's deportation of 20 Muslims who had sought asylum there after fleeing ethnic violence in China's far west.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman yesterday insisted the aid package to Cambodia had "no strings attached".
Beijing has accused the Muslim Uighurs of being involved in ethnic rioting in July that pitted the minority group against the majorit
ADVERTISEMENTy Han Chinese.
Cambodia deported the Uighurs on Saturday night, despite protests from the United States and the United Nations, whose refugee agency stationed people at the Phnom Penh airport in an attempt to physically stop the group's expulsion.
In statements to the UN refugee agency, the Uighurs said they had witnessed and documented the rioting – China's worst ethnic violence in decades – and that they feared lengthy imprisonment or even the death penalty if they were returned to China.
Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping, who arrived on a previously scheduled visit only hours after the Uighurs left, pledged the £750m to Cambodia on Monday and thanked the country for the deportations, a Cambodian government spokesman said.
The aid, including 14 agreements for grants and loans, ranges from help in building roads to repairing Buddhist temples.
Cambodia said it had expelled the Uighurs because they had entered the country illegally.
The Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman defended the deportations, called the handling of the Uighurs an "internal affair" and told reporters there had been "no strings attached" to the aid package.
"According to my knowledge, some are suspected of criminal cases," Jiang Yu told a regular news briefing yesterday. "Public security forces will handle the relevant outlaws. Their whereabouts, I have no information to offer you."
The UN's special raporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, expressed concern that the Uighurs could be abused.
Mr Nowak said Cambodia had violated its obligations under the world body's convention against torture.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights accused the Cambodian authorities of bowing to pressure and deporting the asylum seekers despite having given "strong assurances" it would be allowed to complete its investigation to determine their status.
The group of Uighurs had made the journey from China's far west through to Vietnam and then Cambodia with the help of a network of missionary groups. Two Uighurs fled before the group was forced to return to China.
Overseas activist groups say Uighurs in China have been rounded up in mass detentions since the summer's violence in the Xinjiang region, where tensions have long simmered between the minority Uighurs and the majority Han Chinese.
China has handed down at least 17 death sentences – mostly to Uighurs – over the rioting.
US-based Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, reviled by Beijing as a separatist, said Cambodia's deportation was "no doubt influenced by enormous Chinese pressure, backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in aid".
China is Cambodia's largest source of foreign direct investment, having pumped more than £2.7 billion into the impoverished nation. It also funds projects ranging from roads and irrigation to a new parliament building.
Ms Jiang insisted China had attached no strings to its aid.
"China and Cambodia have been maintaining a comprehensive and co-operative partnership. We provide what aid we can to Cambodia, and without any conditions," she said.