Ukraine urged not to extradite Tajik ex-PM

KIEV Fri Mar 1, 2013 10:53am EST

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KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine said on Friday it was considering an appeal from the U.N. refugee agency against the extradition of a former Tajik prime minister, on the grounds that the United States has already granted him refugee status.

Abdulmalik Abdullojonov, 64, was held on February 5 after flying to Ukraine from the United States where he has lived since 1998. At home, he has been accused of being behind an assassination attempt on veteran Tajik leader Imomali Rakhmon.

"We are checking (whether there are) circumstances that may make this person's extradition impossible," a spokeswoman for the prosecutor general's office said.

She said a local court would make a final decision later this month, following a motion from a state prosecutor.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees urged Abdullojov's release, without naming him.

"UNHCR remains confident that Ukraine will decline the extradition request and release this individual as soon as possible, in accordance with its obligations under international law," said a statement from the agency's office in Ukraine.

Abdullojonov, prime minister from 1992-3 soon after the Central Asian state's independence from the Soviet Union, could face up to 20 years in prison in Tajikistan where he is wanted on suspicion of planning a coup d'etat.

Abdullojonov, who lost to Rakhmon in a 1994 presidential election, has also been accused of being behind a failed 1997 assassination plot against the Central Asian country's leader.

Rakhmon has led the predominantly Muslim ex-Soviet nation for two decades. Human rights groups have accused him of cracking down on dissent and blocking websites before an election in November that could hand him another term in office.

Ukraine also came under fire from rights groups last year when a Russian opposition activist disappeared in Kiev, where he had sought asylum, and ended up in a Moscow detention center where he faced criminal charges.

(Reporting By Natalia Zinets; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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