BEIJING - BEIJING (AP) — The Chinese government denied Tuesday that $1.2 billion in aid it gave Cambodia was linked to the Southeast Asian nation's deportation of 20 Muslims who had sought asylum after fleeing ethnic violence in China's far west.
A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the aid package to Cambodia has "no strings attached."
China has accused the Uighurs of being involved in ethnic rioting in July that pitted the minority group against the majority 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 U.N. refugee agency, the Uighurs said they 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 just hours after the Uighurs left, pledged $1.2 billion to Cambodia on Monday and also thanked the country for the deportations, a Cambodian government spokesman said.
Cambodia said it was expelling the Uighurs because they had illegally entered the country.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman defended the deportations Tuesday, called the handling of the Uighurs an "internal affair" and said there were "no strings attached" to the aid package.
"According to my knowledge, some are suspected of criminal cases," Jiang Yu told a regularly scheduled news briefing. "Public security forces will handle the relevant outlaws. Their whereabouts, I have no information to offer you."
The United States has said it was "deeply disturbed" by the deportations. State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said the incident would affect Cambodia's relationship with the United States and its international standing.
The U.N.'s so-called special raporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, expressed concern Tuesday the Uighurs could be abused. Nowak, an expert, said Cambodia had violated its obligations under the world body's convention against torture.
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.