Canada-China row intensifies over terrorism charges

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Feb 8, 2007, 23:27 GMT

Montreal - The Canadian government came under fire Thursday for its handling of a diplomatic row with China, after the family of a Chinese-Canadian held on terrorism charges said he had been abandoned by Canadian diplomats.

Huseyin Celil, a member of the Muslim ethnic Uighur community who lived in the Xingjiang province of China, was arrested on terrorism charges in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent while visiting family on March 27, 2006.

He was extradited to China three months later under an agreement between the Uzbek and Chinese governments.

Celil, 38, came to Canada in 2001 as a refugee after already spending several years in a Chinese prison, accused of dissidence. He became a Canadian citizen in 2005.

China does not recognize his Canadian citizenship and has said that the matter will be handled internally. They have reportedly been angered by Canada's attempts to have Celil released.

The Uighur community has been accused by China of plotting terrorist acts in an effort to achieve an autonomous Islamic state in the region called East Turkistan.

Celil's wife, Kamila Telendibaeva, who lives with the couple's four children outside of Toronto claimed early in the week that Celil has been abandoned by Canadian officials, after he made a court appearance in China last week but no consular representatives attended the hearing.

'They could have done more,' Telendibaeva told the Toronto Star newspaper. 'They missed an opportunity to see him.'

At the court proceedings last week at Urumqi in Xingjiang province, Celil reportedly claimed that he had been tortured for several days in order to extract a confession that he was plotting terrorist attacks against China. He added that he had been badgered by interrogators, denied food and water and threatened with being burned and buried alive.

On Thursday, opposition parties hammered away at Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the Canadian parliament, calling him a 'bumbling cold warrior' and charging that his aggressive approach towards diplomatic relations with China had compromised Canada's ability to assist Celil.

Harper deflected the criticism, saying that they had taken the issue up with the Chinese government on several occasions.

The row has been one of several between Canada and China over the past several months.

In April, China issued a forceful denial that they were engaging in industrial espionage in Canada, responding to allegations by Harper's government. China, in turn, was offended when Canada presented the Dalai Lama with honorary citizenship in September and by Harper's criticism of China's human rights record last November.

Harper was reportedly displeased by the lack of Canadian presence at the hearing and has ordered diplomats in the region to the courts. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Mackay has reportedly also personally intervened.

The international human rights group Amnesty International has issued several alerts over Celil's status and treatment since his arrest last year.

Canadian consular officials in Ottawa would not comment on China's lack of recognition of Celil's Canadian citizenship or on reports that Celil had been denied access to diplomatic support by Chinese officials.