Crimea Tatars say leader banned by Russia from returning

Reuters

KIEV (Reuters) - Crimea's Tatar community assembly accused Russia on Tuesday of barring its leading political figure from returning to the peninsula following its annexation by Moscow.

In an online statement, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People said Mustafa Dzhemilev, a member of the Ukrainian parliament and the former chairman of the Mejlis, had been handed a notice banning him from Russia for five years as he crossed back to mainland Ukraine after a weekend in Crimea.

It carried a photograph of a typed sheet of paper, unsigned and without letterhead, headed: "Notification of non-permission of entry to the Russian Federation". It said "Mustafa Dzhemilev ... citizen of Ukraine" was denied entry to Russia on the basis of federal law for five years until April 19, 2019.

Russia's Federal Migration Service declined comment. No immediate comment was available from the Foreign Ministry.

The Mejlis did not say who gave out the notice. Russia has yet to establish a full international land border crossing out of Crimea, which Ukraine, with broad backing abroad, regards as still part of its territory. Since shortly after the overthrow of Ukraine's Kremlin-backed president in Kiev, local pro-Russian militias in Crimea have been checking traffic from the mainland.

The Mejlis allegation came a day after President Vladimir Putin made a goodwill gesture toward the Crimean Tatars, many of whom wanted to remain Ukrainian, by signing a decree ruling their mass deportation by Stalin in the 1940s illegal and guaranteeing autonomous rights for them and other minorities.

A Turkic-speaking, Muslim community, long present on the Black Sea, Tatars make up about 12 percent of Crimea's 2 million population. Deported to central Asia on suspicion of aiding Nazi German invaders, they began to return in the 1980s and in large numbers after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Mejlis was recognized by the Ukrainian state in the 1990s as a representative body for the Tatars. Dzhemilev, 70, was its chairman from its foundation in 1991 until last year.

The Mejlis statement said the current deputy chairman, Aslan Omer Kyrymly, was also handed a similar banning notice.

It quoted Dzhemilev calling it "an indication of what kind of 'civilized' state we are dealing with". Last month, he had told Putin that annexing Crimea would breach international law.

There have been tensions between Tatars in Crimea and pro-Russian separatists. On Monday, the Mejlis said unidentified men in camouflage forced their way into its building, which was largely empty for a holiday, and took down a Ukrainian flag.

(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Alison Williams)

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