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U.S. officials say they continue to press diplomatic efforts to persuade the Uzbek government to permit an international inquiry into its crackdown in Andijon. Washington reaffirmed its call for an independent investigation, following a report the Defense Department sought to limit condemnation of Uzbek government actions. U.S. and international officials also called on Kyrgyz authorities to safeguard Uzbek refugees and investigate the handover of four asylum seekers to Uzbekistan last week.
Washington, 15 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The Bush administration says it continues to pursue a policy aimed at ensuring a credible investigation into the events one month ago in Andijon.
Statements by the White House and State Department yesterday sought to counter a report in "The Washington Post" on internal administration divisions over how hard to press the government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
The newspaper quoted U.S. and unidentified diplomatic officials as saying that U.S. Defense Department and Russian officials blocked a NATO meeting last week from calling for an independent inquiry.
The State Department has steadily increased its criticism of Uzbek actions, saying authorities must allow a probe into "credible reports" that hundreds of innocent civilians were killed by government forces and that it is considering action through the UN.
The White House made a similar statement yesterday through its spokesman, Trent Duffy. And State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters that the Pentagon has also delivered this same message to Tashkent.
"We are speaking with one voice with respect to this issue. Our views on this are clear. We have condemned what took place in Andijon. The Uzbek people and the world need to know what happened at Andijon -- and importantly, so it never happens again," McCormack said.
Uzbekistan has been a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. It has allowed the U.S. military to use the Karshi Khanabad airfield, which plays an important role for forces deploying to Afghanistan.
But its human rights record -- heavily criticized by international monitors -- has been a source of friction between the U.S. State and Defense departments. The two departments have differed over whether to use the cutoff of aid as a lever against the Karimov regime.
McCormack yesterday noted the strategic importance of the Uzbek base. But he said there is no contradiction between Washington's strategic objectives and its democracy objectives in Central Asia.
McCormack said the longstanding U.S. position on Uzbekistan is that it must improve its human rights record to find lasting security.
"Stability requires legitimacy, which has to be won not through force or imposition, but it will be generated by allowing the Uzbek people to participate in the civic life of their country. And I think that the developments as we've seen them, including in Andijon recently, underscore the need for further reform to address the citizens' concerns about poverty, human rights and injustice," McCormack said.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday discussed the regional situation with visiting Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva. Nearly 500 Uzbeks fled to Kyrgyzstan after the government crackdown last month.
McCormack said Rice conveyed U.S. concern over the Kyrgyz government's decision to turn over four Uzbek asylum seekers to Uzbek authorities. He said there should have been a careful review of whether the individuals faced persecution in Uzbekistan.
"The secretary also talked about the situation with refugees that are still in Kyrgyzstan. And the secretary underlined the importance of working closely with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees when talking about their status. And the foreign minister pledged that the Kyrgyz officials would in fact do that," McCormack said.
The chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Dimitrij Rupel also urged Kyrgyz authorities to investigate the incident and halt any further planned deportations.
Earlier yesterday, Otunbaeva told a group of foreign policy experts in Washington that her government is committed to resolving the incident and protecting Uzbek refugees.
"We are investigating this fact very seriously, why it's happened, who is guilty and I hope that few days to come we will find out why it's happened and so those people [will be] really punished severely. We want to [respect] our international obligations and to look after those people from Uzbekistan," Otunbaeva said.
A team from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has arrived this week in Kyrgyzstan to investigate the Andijon events. A statement from the High Commissioner's Office said the team would stay for 10 days to interview eyewitnesses and others with first-hand information.
The Uzbek government has not permitted the UN or other international bodies to launch in inquiry at the scene of the incident.