Thailand sends about 100 ethnic Uighurs back to China

BANGKOK: Thailand deported more than 100 ethnic Uighurs back to China on Thursday, ignoring calls from the international community to protect the group and ensure they were not forced back to face possible persecution by the Chinese government.

Government spokesman Maj. Gen. Verachon Sukhonthapatipak said that Thailand had assurances from Chinese authorities that "their safety is guaranteed." He said the group of 109 Uighurs had been in Thailand for over a year, along with others who had arrived in waves claiming to be Turkish. Thai authorities sought to verify all of their nationalities before relocating them, he said.

"We found that about 170 of them were Turkish, so they were recently sent to Turkey," he said. "And about 100 were Chinese, so they were sent to China as of this morning, under the agreement that their safety is guaranteed according to humanitarian principles."

The Uighurs are a Turkik-speaking Muslim minority in China's far west Xinjiang region. The group has complained of cultural and religious suppression as well as economic marginalization under Chinese rule.

Beijing is also waging a war against terrorism in Xinjiang, where ethnic violence has left hundreds of people dead over the past two years. It has blamed religious extremism for the violence.

Beijing has express displeasure with Turkey for taking the other 173 Uighurs from Thailand last week.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the Uighurs had left China illegally, and that Beijing opposes "any actions that aid and abet, or even support illegal migration."

"We believe that the international community should share common responsibility for combating and preventing illegal migration," she said.

The US State Department and human rights groups like Human Rights Watch had urged Thailand to protect the Uighurs and not force them to return to China.