Turkey-China wrangle over suspected Uighurs detained in Thailand

A family of suspected Uighur Muslims, among hundreds detained in Thailand since last year, will Friday learn their fate in a court case that has sparked a diplomatic wrangle between Turkey and China.

AFP| Updated: Mar 24, 2015, 18:51 PM IST

Bangkok: A family of suspected Uighur Muslims, among hundreds detained in Thailand since last year, will Friday learn their fate in a court case that has sparked a diplomatic wrangle between Turkey and China.

Both countries are seeking the repatriation of the family, who use the surname Teklimakan and claim they are Turkish.

They were detained by Thai police in March 2014 after illegally entering the country along its eastern border with Cambodia.

That same month dozens of migrants also thought to be from China`s mostly Muslim Uighur minority were discovered during a raid on a suspected people-smuggling camp in the kingdom`s deep south and sentenced for illegal entry. 

They similarly presented themselves to police as Turkish.

The 17 Teklimakan family members -- including 13 children of whom two were born in custody -- were issued passports by the Turkish embassy while in detention. But China has insisted they are Uighurs from its restive northwest region of Xinjiang.

During a hearing at the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court Tuesday, attended by both Turkish and Chinese officials, a judge said the case was "related to (international) relations", and a decision on whether or not to release the family would be made Friday.

Uighurs, who number around 10 million in China`s violence-racked Xinjiang region, are a Turkic-speaking ethnic minority who have long chafed under Chinese control.

Responding to pressure from Beijing, countries including Cambodia, Malaysia and Pakistan have all in recent years forcibly returned fleeing Uighurs to China.

At Tuesday`s hearing Ahmet Idem Akay, first counsellor for the Turkish Embassy, told AFP the Teklimakan family were Turkish citizens. "For us this is a humanitarian issue," he said.

Chinese officials at the hearing refused to comment.

There are 355 Uighurs currently detained in Thailand, police Lieutenant Colonel Jitti Sangthong from Thailand`s immigration bureau told the court.

He said both the Chinese and Turkish embassies had been asked to help establish the family`s nationality.

Later he told reporters that members of Thailand`s National Security Council are due to travel to China in the next few days to discuss the "sensitive issue" after an earlier trip to Turkey.

The decision on whether or not to release the Teklimakans could have important implications for the other Uighurs detained in Thailand.

"I am hoping this case might set a precedent for other Uighurs," Kessarin Tiawsakul from the Office of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand told AFP. "It`s about human rights."