The United States has condemned Uzbekistan's government for ordering the U.N. refugee agency to leave the country.
A State Department spokesman urged Uzbek officials to rescind the order and allow the U.N. agency to continue helping refugees and asylum seekers in Uzbekistan.
This comes one day after Uzbekistan told the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees it has completed its task in the country and must leave within a month. The agency agreed to comply with the order.
Uzbek authorities have accused UNHCR of protecting criminals and terrorists by opposing deportations of Uzbek asylum seekers from Kyrgyzstan. The agency has criticized the government's treatment of people accused of taking part in protests last year in the Uzbek town of Andijan.
Hundreds fled the country after security forces crushed the protests, which authorities blamed on Islamic insurgents. The U.N. agency helped several hundred Uzbeks win asylum abroad.
The State Department spokesman said U.S. officials are concerned about the fate of about 18 Uzbek asylum seekers he said were forcibly returned to Uzbekistan from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.
He called on governments in the region now detaining Uzbek asylum seekers to refrain from forcibly returning them to Uzbekistan.
Human Rights Watch also Tuesday condemned Uzbekistan's decision to order the UNHCR out of the country. The group said closing the agency's offices will deprive refugees in Uzbekistan of international protection and set what it called a "terrible precedent."Some information for this report was provided by AFP.