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Amnesty says heart of Asia facing r

Amnesty says heart of Asia facing
refugee crisis 
                                 01:13 a.m. Oct 01, 1997 Eastern 

                                 By Michael Perry 

  SYDNEY, Oct 1 (Reuter) - Amnesty International on Wednesday said a
refugee crisis had
  emerged across the heart of Asia -- from Nepal, through India, Burma
to Thailand -- with millions of
  asylum seekers fleeing worsening human rights abuses. 

  ``The vast majority of these people are women and children fleeing
torture, 'disappearances',
   political killings and arbitrary arrest,'' Amnesty said in a report
on refugees in Asia. 

   ``Long-standing problems elsewhere in the region, such as conflicts
in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and
    Bougainville, and repression in East Timor, have also created large
outflows of people seeking
    refuge,'' Amnesty said. 

   Amnesty said serious human rights abuses were occurring in almost
every Asia-Pacific country,
   leading to at least 1.8 million refugees and 1.7 million people
domestically displaced. 

  It said governments had reacted to the crisis by putting up barriers
to refugees, making it      difficult for refugees to gain asylum and
sending asylum seekers back ``to face danger.'' 

  Amnesty said many people were facing human rights abuses based on
their ethnicity. 

  ``Rampant human rights abuses have driven at least a million members
of Myanmar's (Burma)
    ethnic minorities from their homes,'' the report said. ``The human
rights nightmare in Myanmar
   (Burma) leaves little doubt that those fleeing the country need and
deserve international protection.''

  Amnesty said in Bhutan, about 90,000 people had been forced out of the
Himalayan country after
  the government ``deprived'' them of their citizenship because of their
ethnic identity. 

 China's crackdown on Tibetan national, religious and cultural identity
had generated a ``refugee
   diaspora'' spreading from India to Europe. 

  One fifth of Afghanistan's population had fled as a result of fighting
between warring religious
    factions and some 300,000 Kashmiri Hindus and 50,000 Kashmiri
Muslims had fled the Kashmir
     valley, the focus of a dispute between Pakistan and India. 

   ``East Timorese people continue to suffer as a result of the
Indonesian government's 20-year
    campaign of repression and intimidation to stamp out independent
identity,'' Amnesty said. 

   Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 after Portugal abandoned the
colony in 1974. Jakarta
     annexed the territory in 1976, but the United Nations has never
recognised Indonesian sovereignty
   over East Timor. 

 Amnesty estimated 200,000 people had died in the East Timor conflict,
mostly through famine and
 disease, while those suspected of being aligned to the Timorese
independence movement faced
  torture, 'disappearance' and rape. 

  Amnesty said governments had now adopted a tougher attitude to
refugees than during the exodus
  of Vietnamese boatpeople in the 1970s. Asian governments were now
expelling asylum seekers or
  reducing their food supplies to such an extent that refugees were
forced to leave their
  impoverished camps and return home. 

 Richer nations like Australia and Japan were meanwhile making it more
difficult for refugees to
   cross into their territories and seek asylum. 

``Despite the continuing crackdown on dissidents in China, Japan has so
far only recognised one
  Chinese person as a refugee in more than 15 years,'' Amnesty said. 

 Under the heading ``Australia's closing doors,'' it criticised
Australia for its ``cynical'' retreat from its human rights
responsibilities by refusing to take East Timorese as refugees. 

  Australia, one of the few Western countries to recognise Indonesian
sovereignty over East Timor,
   had placed trade with Jakarta above human rights, Amnesty said.