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Witness At Andijon Trial Says Troops Shot Civilians


Mahbuba Zakirova testifying Prague, 14 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- A witness at the trial of 15 people accused of organizing an antigovernment revolt in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon has testified that government troops opened fire on civilians during the crisis. It's the first time during the trial that a witness has contradicted the government's version of events.

Mahbuba Zokirova told the court today that on 13 May she and her children had gone for a walk when, out of curiosity, she decided to join the Andijon protesters in the city square.

She said she was hoping to see Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who was believed to be on his way to talk to the protesters. That's when troops started shooting, she said.

''The helicopter started hovering over our heads. It was very low. We got excited that [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov is really coming to talk to us. But instead soldiers who were circling us started shooting people. There were almost no armed people among the crowd. Many among them were children," Zokirova said.

The soldiers were called into Andijon to contain an uprising that authorities blame on Islamic militants intent on overthrowing the government. On 3 October, Uzbek soldiers testified that they had offered the protesters safe passage out of the city, but that the protesters started firing.

The soldiers backed the state prosecutors' statements that many of the protesters were killed by other protesters in confused fighting.

Uzbek authorities say 187 people -- most of them described as Islamic militants -- were killed in the Andijon violence. Human rights groups say upwards of 700 people, many of them civilians, may have been killed. Karimov has refused calls for an international probe into the violence.

Prosecutors challenged Zokirova as she testified today for some 30 minutes. But she maintained that the protesters did not open fire, asking, "How could they shoot at their own wives and relatives?"

She said she saw soldiers shooting at people who were waving a white flag in surrender. "The shooting was horrifying. I have no words to describe it," she said. "I guess real war isn't that terrifying. Blood was flowing from everywhere."

Zokirova -- a 33-year-old housewife from a village near Andijon -- said she fled to neighboring Kyrgyzstan with her family and several hundred other protesters. She said she was forcibly returned by her husband's brothers. She said the rest of her family stayed in a Kyrgyz refugee camp and were later transferred to Romania.

She said she now fears for her safety. She asked prosecutors if she would be arrested for her testimony. The prosecutors told her no, that she was only a witness.

The 15 defendants who are on trial have all pleaded guilty to charges of terrorism, murder, and membership in banned Islamic groups and face possible execution. Rights groups say they were tortured into confessing.

(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service/AP)

For RFE/RL's complete coverage, see the special page: "Aftermath of Andijon"

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