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Uzbek, Kyrgyz Officials Discuss Refugees' Fate

Uzbeks at a refugee camp near Jalal-Abad, Kyrgyzstan Prague, 16 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Tension simmered in eastern Uzbekistan today following deadly clashes between government troops and protesters that witnesses say resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people. Meanwhile, hundreds of Uzbeks have fled to neighboring Kyrgyzstan to escape the violence.

[For more on these events, see RFE/RL's dedicated webpage: Unrest in Uzbekistan]

Officials from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan were in talks today about what to do with the Uzbek refugees who have been fleeing violence in the Uzbek city of Andijon and crossing into Kyrgyz territory.

The head of Kyrgyzstan's border guards, Myrzakan Subanov, said the talks centered on repatriating the refugees as soon as the situation in Andijon returned to normal.

Markus Muller, who heads the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Center in Bishkek, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service there today that the OSCE center in Tashkent has offered to act as a mediator between the Uzbek government and the refugees. However, Muller acknowledged that the issue is a "delicate" one.

"This is a delicate question because, of course, most of the refugees are normal people, but it seems there are also people with weapons [among them]," Muller said.

Following the 13 May crackdown, an unknown number of Uzbeks fled by crossing the border into neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

A team from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) traveled yesterday to the Kyrgyz city of Suzak, 80 kilometers northeast of Andijon. The UNHCR says most of the 560 Uzbeks who had arrived there were men, and that 18 were wounded.
The Uzbek government has so far only confirmed that 10 soldiers and policemen as well as 20 civilians were killed in clashes. Estimates of the number killed range from 30 to 500.

Speaking from the Kyrgyz side of the border, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondent Elmurod Yusupaliev said the Kyrgyz government has set up another refugee camp in Bazarkorgan district, some 70 kilometers east of Andijon.

"I received information that the biggest refugee camp has been set up [by the Kyrgyz government] in the Bazarkorgan district of Kyrgyzstan. There are more than 600 Uzbek refugees there. Most of them are beaten up, some are wounded, and there are many women and children among them," Yusupaliev reported.

A representative of the International Committee of the Red Crescent in Kyrgyzstan, Yelena Pavlyuk, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service in Bishkek that the organization will provide the refugees with humanitarian aid, if needed.

"We will provide aid [to Uzbek refugees] from our reserve storehouses [in Kyrgyzstan]: tents, mattresses, blankets, daily living necessities, spoons, cups, pots. We do have the intention to help if it becomes necessary," Pavlyuk said.

Bridges linking the two countries have been reopened in Kara-suu [Eds.: Kara-suu lies on the Kyrgyz side of the border; Karasu on the Uzbek side] on the border with Uzbekistan. The bridges were destroyed two years ago in what the Uzbek government said was a crackdown on cross-border trade.

Yusupaliev, who traveled today to Karasu in Uzbekistan, says the situation there is calm.

"The situation in Karasu is calm despite the fact that there are no border guards or police in the city," he reported. "People are very quiet. There is nothing like ransacking or looting in the city. As the governor of the Kurgontepa region [where Karasu is situated] told me, all policemen were supposed to work today, but none of them came to work, none of them went to patrol the city streets."

However, Andrei Babitskii, a correspondent from RFE/RL's Russian Service who was in Andijon early today, said the city remains a closed city.

"The [Andijon] city center is sealed off," he reported. "There are military troops based there. The city is surrounded. All entries are blocked. In the city, there have been mass arrests for several days. Local human rights activists say some 1,500 people have been arrested so far. People have been taken to the police departments of the city and region."

Uzbek Interior Minister Zakir Amatov said 70 people have been detained in connection with the violence that broke out in the city of Andijon. Almatov added that the 70 include some of the organizers of the 13 May attack on a police station and military unit in Andijon.

The attackers seized weapons and freed hundreds of prisoners from a high-security prison. Witnesses say Uzbek troops later opened fire on a crowd numbering in the thousands that had gathered in Andijon to protest government policies.

The Uzbek government has so far only confirmed that 10 soldiers and policemen as well as 20 civilians were killed in clashes. Estimates of the number killed range from 30 to 500.

The government of President Islam Karimov has denied ordering troops to open fire on the demonstrators.

Authorities have restricted journalists' access to the affected areas, however. The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said in a statement, "When the authorities keep journalists away from a conflict zone it is most often to hide abuses committed there."

Maisy Weicherding, a researcher on Uzbekistan at Amnesty International in London, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that the human rights watchdog is concerned that the unrest will lead to a wave of repression.

"We were extremely concerned that this would lead to another wave of arrests, of indiscriminate arbitrary arrests, that people would be accused of being terrorists and, you know, would end up being tortured in prison and sentenced for too long prison terms, just like happened before in 1999 with the bomb explosions in Tashkent and again last year with the bomb explosions in Tashkent and Bukhara," Weicherding said.

Speaking on 14 May in the Kyrgyz resort town of Cholponata, Kyrgyzstan's interim President Kurmanbek Bakiev echoed the view expressed by his Uzbek counterpart that Islamic militants are responsible for unrest in Andijon.

"This happened because of what we call the IMU, or Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and representatives of Hizb ut-Tahrir. In any case, this [violence] does not lead to a good life. I think there should be peace. I don't support the views of those who want to establish a state under management of a religious body," Bakiev said.

President Karimov blamed Hizb ut-Tahrir, or the Party of Islamic Renaissance, for attempting to overthrow his government by triggering unrest. Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group headquartered in London that espouses the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in Central Asia, denies any involvement.

(By Antoine Blua and Gulnoza Saidazimova)

Click here for a gallery of images from the violence in eastern Uzbekistan on 13-14 May.

See also:

Bloody Friday In The Ferghana Valley

Where Does Uzbek Crisis Go From Here?

Protesters Charge Officials With Using Extremism Charges To Target Entrepreneurs

Analysis: Economic Concerns Primary In Andijon

Background: Banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Faces Dwindling Appeal, Internal Divisions

Interview: Opposition Leader Tells RFE/RL About 'Farmers' Revolution'

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