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Uzbekistan: OSCE Warns Against Political Clampdown

Tashkent, 22 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A top European security official has warned Russia and Uzbekistan not to use the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan to clamp down on political opponents at home. Mircea Geoana, the chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), made the remark during a visit to the Uzbek capital Tashkent, where he is to hold talks with President Islam Karimov and other top officials.

Geoana said the campaign against terrorism must not be used to "put pressure on those opposing a current regime."

He said Russia could miss "a great chance to become integrated into the West" by trying to gain international support for its war against Chechen separatists.

He also asked Uzbekistan, "Why not free opposition members from prisons?"

Human rights organizations have accused Karimov's government of persecuting ordinary Muslims in its fight against an Islamic insurgency.

Geoana is to travel to Azerbaijan later today before heading to Moscow.

In another development, Russian President Vladimir Putin today pledged to continue political and military support for the opposition Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.

Putin said Russian assistance would include arms and military equipment as well as humanitarian goods. Putin said Russia would continue to support efforts so that the Afghan nation would be in a position to "define its own fate."

Putin met overnight in Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe with deposed Afghan President Burhaniddin Rabbani and Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov. Putin made the brief stopover in Dushanbe as he was returning to Moscow from the weekend summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Shanghai.

Putin said Russia recognizes Rabbani's government as legitimate and considers its opposition to including the Taliban in a future Afghan government as "well-founded."

United States officials have expressed a willingness to include some rank-and-file Taliban members in a future government.