Kyrgyz From China Urge President Jeenbekov To Help With Captured Relatives

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BISHKEK -- A group of ethnic Kyrgyz originally from the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang have urged Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov to seek the release of their relatives from "reeducation camps" in China.

In an open letter addressed to Jeenbekov TheKyrgyz repatriates said that at least 50,000 ethnic Kyrgyz are being kept in such camps in Xinjiang. The authors of the letter said that those being kept there have been held incommunicado, sometimes for more than two years.

Kazakh repatriates from Xinjiang held several public events in Almaty in recent weeks, urging Kazakhstan's authorities and Western government to help release their relatives from such camps.

Investigations by the United Nations revealed in August that an estimated 1 million Muslims from Xinjiang were being held in "counterextremism centers" and millions more have been forced into reeducation camps.

China denies the facilities are internment camps.

Officials say they are part of a "vocational education and training program" that helps people to "see clearly the essence and harm of terrorism and religious extremism."

An estimated 200,000 ethnic Kyrgyz are currently living in Xinjiang, mainly in the Kyzylsu-Kyrgyz Autonomous Prefecture near the Chinese-Kyrgyz border.

Uyghurs are the largest indigenous community in Xinjiang, followed by Kazakhs, and the region is also home to ethnic Tajiks and Hui, also known as Dungans.

Han, China's largest ethnicity, are the second-largest community in Xinjiang, which borders Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia, and Tajikistan.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.