Malaysia detains Uighur fugitives wanted by China

DEPORTATION::Kuala Lumpur is under great pressure from Beijing to hand the 11 who escaped from a Thai jail back to the Chinese government

Reuters, KUALA LUMPUR

Fri, Feb 09, 2018 - Page 1

Eleven Uighurs from China, missing since their dramatic escape from a Thai jail last year, have been detained in Malaysia and Beijing wants them back, sources familiar with the matter said.

Twenty Uighurs broke out of a cell near the Thai-Malaysian border in November last year by digging holes in the wall and using blankets as ladders.

The escapees were part of a group of more than 200 Uighurs detained in Thailand in 2014.

Members of the group identified themselves as Turkish citizens and asked to be sent to Turkey, but more than 100 were forcibly returned to China in July 2015, a move that sparked international condemnation, including from rights groups who feared they could face torture.

Malaysia said two days after the escape that it had arrested one of the Uighurs who had crossed the border to its northern state of Kedah and that he would be handed over to Thailand, but the Southeast Asian nation has not disclosed any further Uighur arrests since.

Beijing accuses separatist extremists among the Uighur minority of plotting attacks on China’s Han majority in the restive far western region of Xinjiang and other parts of China.

China has been accused of rights abuses in Xinjiang, torture of Uighur detainees and tight control of their religion and culture.

It denies wrongdoing.

Over the years, hundreds, possibly thousands, of Uighurs have escaped unrest in Xinjiang by traveling clandestinely via Southeast Asia to Turkey.

Three sources who did not want to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter said Malaysia had detained the 11 Uighurs in the north of the nation.

They said China was in talks with Malaysia on their deportation.

Some Western foreign missions were trying to dissuade Malaysia from sending the Uighurs to China, the sources added.

“They [Malaysia] are under great pressure from China to hand them over to China and not to Thailand,” one of the sources said.

When asked about the detained Uighurs, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang (耿爽) said he did not know of the case.

Two of the sources said Malaysia had not yet made a decision on whether to send the detained Uighurs to China, while the third source said deportation to China was likely.