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Uzbekistan: EU In Tashkent For Intensive Talks On Human Rights Situation

  • Breffni O'Rourke --> Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov (file photo) (Council of Europe) April 3, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A European Union delegation is meeting in Uzbekistan with Uzbek officials about the human rights situation in that country stemming from violent events in Andijon two years ago.

The talks come ahead of an EU decision over prolonging sanctions against Uzbekistan following Tashkent's refusal to allow independent investigation of the bloodshed when security forces opened fire on demonstrators in 2005.

The talks are going forward in Tashkent under a cloak of silence from both the European Union and the Uzbek government.

The EU has sent a high-powered delegation consisting of representatives of its "troika" from the German EU Presidency, the European Commission, and the secretariat of the ruling Council of Ministers.

They are meeting Uzbek officials from the Foreign and Justice ministries, state prosecutors, lawyers for some detained activists, and some detainees themselves.

There is no word on the atmosphere at the talks, which started on April 2 and continued today.

Tough Tone

Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov said in the Kazakh capital, Astana, recently that his government does not intend to "explain ourselves to anyone." He has said the situation cannot be that of a "pupil and a lecturer."

During that Astana meeting between EU officials and senior Central Asian representatives, Norov also called for noninterference in the internal affairs of countries.

"In our opinion, it is crucially important to build relations on the basis of equal rights, mutual respect, noninterference in internal affairs, pragmatism, [and respect for] the vital interest of the parties without bringing ideology into the matter," Norov said.

Welcoming Dialogue

The EU's special representative to Central Asia, Pierre Morel, has adopted a more conciliatory tone. He commented on Norov's statements in an interview with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service.

"He expressed a predictable line from Uzbekistan, but I would not say it was especially harsh," Morel said. "We have had this type of exchange before; we...had them in November at the time of the [EU-Uzbek] cooperation council."

Morel, who was speaking after the same meeting in Astana, noted that Norov attended that gathering and participated fully in its activities.

"He could have abstained, he could have sent somebody else, but he was there himself," Morel said. "And we discussed all these questions, and we mentioned the problems, and we had a bilateral [meeting] with him -- we discussed these questions with him. So he has been participating fully in the process."

Choice For Brussels

On the basis of the present talks, the EU will be deciding in May whether to renew the limited sanctions it imposed on Uzbekistan in the wake of Andijon, to lift them, or to strengthen them.

Brussels is preparing a long-term strategy on developing ties with Central Asia. The region is important for Europe because of its rich resources of oil and natural gas, and some commentators fear the EU may be willing to dampen its demands for the observance of human rights in order to secure these resources.

EU officials deny that rights issues will be taking a back seat to economic considerations.

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