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Uzbekistan: EU Appears Set To Ease Andijon Pressure

  • Ahto Lobjakas --> A man tries to identify a relative among Andijon's dead in May 2005 (epa) BRUSSELS, October 27, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union has announced its call for a special meeting with Uzbek officials to decide whether to extend sanctions that followed a bloody crackdown in eastern Uzbekistan. Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg on October 26, EU Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said the meeting will clarify the Uzbek stance and provide a forum for registering EU discontent.

The EU imposed an arms embargo and travel ban on a number of officials after Tashkent rejected calls for an independent investigation into violence in Andijon in May 2005.

The European Commission says a meeting between EU and Uzbek representatives in Brussels in early November will determine whether the sanctions should continue for another year.

"In order to enable the member states to obtain a full and comprehensive picture of the situation in Uzbekistan, a Cooperation Council will be held with Uzbekistan in the beginning of November," said Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Fischer Boel, who was standing in for EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. "Moreover, this Cooperation Council will provide an opportunity for the EU to raise directly with the Uzbekistan authorities at ministerial level our many concerns on Andijon and its aftermath."

Fischer Boel said the EU will decide whether to extend the sanctions by November 14.

'Bleak Picture'

Although she conceded that the situation in Uzbekistan remains desperate -- with rights activists constantly harassed or imprisoned -- Fischer Boel indicated the EU is unlikely to add any new sanctions to the existing list.

"Despite this bleak picture, nothing is to be gained by cutting off all channels of communication to Uzbekistan," Fischer Boel said.

"Despite this bleak picture, nothing is to be gained by cutting off all channels of communication to Uzbekistan."

In a resolution adopted on October 26, the European Parliament rejected calls for extending the visa ban or expanding it to President Islam Karimov and other present and former Uzbek officials. Those individuals include the current ministers of Interior, Defense, and Justice, as well as the prosecutor-general and recently ousted governor of the Andijon region.

But while parliamentarians urged the EU "to make a considered decision with a view to improving future relations with Uzbekistan," they said they think the embargo on arms sales and military transfers should be maintained.

Easing Up Anyway?

The call for Cooperation Council with Uzbekistan appears to mark a step back from the full list of sanctions agreed by the EU in October 2005 -- which included a ban on all political-level contacts.

Commissioner Fischer Boel

In late August, a delegation of EU officials accepted an invitation to visit Tashkent. The head of the EU delegation, Finnish diplomat Antti Turunen, told RFE/RL after the visit that the Uzbek government is "to a certain extent open to discuss on expert level the events that took place in Andijon."

Brussels has so far maintained its demand that Uzbekistan allow a full and independent international inquiry into the Andijon bloodshed before all sanctions can be lifted.

Earlier this week, another EU delegation, headed by the newly appointed EU special representative for Central Asia, Pierre Morel, also visited Tashkent.

Morel met with Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov, and is likely to have agreed details of the upcoming meeting.

In comments to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana described the purpose of Morel's trip.

"We want to evaluate the process that is currently [under way] in preparation [for] the meeting with the Uzbek authorities in Brussels," said spokeswoman Christina Gallach. "Therefore, Ambassador Morel's diplomatic trip was [intended] to assess the situation there."

New EU Strategy

Germany, which next holds the rotating EU Presidency, has indicated that it wants to develop a new EU strategy for Central Asia.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeyer is expected to tour Tashkent and the other four Central Asian capitals before Germany takes over the EU in January.

Germany maintains an air base in Uzbekistan, at Termez, that serves as an important logistical hub for its operations in Afghanistan.

The EU has identified Uzbekistan -- along with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan -- as a key target in its efforts to reduce energy dependence on Russia.

EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, who was in Kazakhstan in May, told RFE/RL at the time that the EU would "never negotiate" human rights concerns to gain energy concessions.