Prague, 6 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbek authorities have always been quick to blame religious extremists for deadly acts of violence, whether the February 1999 bomb explosions in Tashkent, a string of blasts in the capital and Bukhara in 2004, or the deadly uprising in Andijon in May.
In 2004, Tashkent officials said that Islamic terrorists had military training in southern Kazakhstan. Their Kazakh counterparts denied accusations.
This year, similar charges have been made regarding another neighbor -- Kyrgyzstan. Svetlana Ortiqova, a spokeswoman for the Uzbek prosecutor-general, said in a statement on 26 August: “The investigation concluded that Bahrom Shakirov and his sons Sharif, Hassan, and Hussan, together with other members of the criminal group, had training in making and using explosive devices, conducting military operations and learned martial arts with foreign instructors in a desolate military base located in the Teke village near the Kyrgyz city of Osh in January-April 2005.”
That accusation was reiterated during the Uzbek parliamentary commission’s hearing, which began yesterday.
Investigators of the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office told the commission that the probe’s initial phase is now complete, and that an initial 15 people have been charged with various crimes, including violent attempt to overthrow the constitutional order. They said the 15 cases had been sent to court.
They also said the Andijon “extremists were members of the Islamic Movement of Turkestan, which has bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Hizb ut-Tahrir headquartered in London, and its offspring Akramiya.”
The three organizations, investigators said, have planned to seize power in Uzbekistan since August 2004, and that their members have undergone training in southern Kyrgyzstan. They also said that another 60 trained and armed militants made up of Kyrgyz citizens broke into Uzbekistan “by taking two border guards hostage and directly took an active part in the acts of terror on the night of 13-14 May.”
Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry has so far not commented on the statement. But Rustam Mirzamatov, head of the Interior Ministry’s city department in Osh, dismissed the allegations about a terror base in Teke.
“We didn’t have time to have training in Teke because it was a time when my brothers had been on trial and we were participating in it." - Hussan Shakirov
“The statement by the Uzbek Prosecutor’s Office about [a military] training center in Teke village near Osh is nothing but a lie," Mirzamatov said. "So is the statement that the Andijon protesters had training in Kyrgyzstan. There is a military base in Teke village, but it’s not desolate, there is a military unit operating there. It is guarded by soldiers, so no civilians can go in and no strangers can have training there.”
Alimbek Boygaziev, the community leader of Teke, situated some 10 kilometers from the Uzbek border, also denied any possibility of Uzbeks receiving training in the village. “We, all people in Teke, are [like] relatives to each other. So, we all know each other, we see each other every day. We would recognize foreigners from Uzbekistan or elsewhere. There have been no strangers here,” Boygaziev said.
The 15 suspects are due to be tried later this month. President Islam Karimov told reporters on 31 August that the first trial would open on 20 September. Uzbek officials did not say who is to be tried and whether the Shakirovs are among them.
Sharif Shakirov was among the protesters who seized the Andijon regional administration building on 13 May and died the same day as government troops opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators. Bahrom Shakirov and some of his sons fled Uzbekistan after the Andijon protests. One of them, Hassan Shakirov, was returned to Uzbekistan by Kyrgyz authorities in early June along with other three refugees. His health has reportedly deteriorated while in an Uzbek jail. Bahrom and Hussan are believed to be hiding in southern Kyrgyzstan.
Bahrom Shakirov and his son Hussan denied allegations they had training in Teke. “It’s absolute slander. We were at home [in Andijon] in January," Bahrom Shakirov said. "A lot of reporters came to our house, from India, from Switzerland, for example. We were working those days. It’s all documented.”
Hussan says his family members attended the trial of 23 prominent businessmen in Andijon last winter.
The trial that the Shakirovs and many other demonstrators protested against started in early February and lasted until 11 May. It eventually led to mass protests and clashes on 12-13 May.
“We didn’t have time to have training in Teke because it was a time when my brothers had been on trial and we were participating in it," Hussan Shakirov said. "We went to [the courthouse] every day. The trial was held five days a week. It lasted three months. What they say is nothing but lie.”
Observers believe the Shakirovs could be tried in absentia. Uzbek authorities used the practice after the February 1999 explosions when they tried secular opposition members along with leaders of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
If the Shakirovs or any of the other refugees hiding in Kyrgyzstan were tried and convicted in absentia, it would likely give Uzbek authorities further leverage to press Bishkek for their extradition.
Uzbek-Kyrgyz relations have deteriorated since the Andijon unrest, when hundreds of Uzbeks fled to southern Kyrgyzstan.
Last week, Tashkent annulled an agreement on gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan in a move seen as retaliation for Bishkek’s refusal to extradite Uzbek refugees.
In July, Kyrgyzstan allowed 439 Uzbeks to be flown to Romania. Fifteen men are still in a detention center in Osh. Tashkent is demanding their extradition, saying they are terrorists.
Investigators from the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office also reported yesterday that 93 people died and 94 terrorists were killed in Andijon on 13 and 14 May.
Human rights groups have called the events there a massacre, saying the death toll may be as high as 1,000, including many women and children.