Thailand’s prime minister defended a decision to forcibly return nearly 100 Muslim Uyghur migrants to China despite rights groups’ fears they could face ill-treatment, Reuters reported.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said Thursday it was not Bangkok’s fault if they suffered problems.
Prayuth also raised the possibility of shutting the Thai Embassy in Turkey after protesters attacked the honorary consulate in Istanbul, smashing windows and ransacking parts of the building, over the expulsion of the Uyghurs back to China.
China’s treatment of its Turkic-language-speaking Uyghur minority is a sensitive issue in Turkey and has strained bilateral ties before a visit to Beijing by President Tayyip Erdogan planned for this month.
Some Turks see themselves as sharing a common cultural and religious heritage with their Uyghur “brothers”, and Turkey is home to a large Uyghur diaspora.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, of Uyghurs keen to escape unrest in China’s Xinjiang region have traveled clandestinely via Southeast Asia to Turkey.
China is home to about 20 million Muslims, only some of whom are Uyghurs.
In addition to those deported to China, a group of more than 170 Uyghurs were identified as Turkish citizens and sent to Turkey, a Thai government spokesman said.
Fifty others still need to have their citizenship verified.
Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, would not confirm whether the Uyghurs had been deported to China but spoke in general terms about the issue at a daily news briefing in Beijing Thursday, saying the Uyghurs were “firstly Chinese”.
Beijing denies restricting the Uyghurs’ religious freedoms and blames Islamist militants for a rise in violent attacks in Xinjiang in the past three years in which hundreds have died.
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