The United Nations yesterday said Karimov had called Annan to brief him on the situation in eastern Uzbekistan nearly one week after the military launched a bloody crackdown on protesters in Andijon.
Addressing reporters in New York, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard described the telephone conversation between the two men as “long and constructive.” Eckhard declined to elaborate further, adding only that Annan had also discussed the situation in Uzbekistan with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
But in subsequent comments made to the media, UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour quoted Karimov as telling Annan that he has the situation in Andijon under control and that he does not see any immediate need for an international team to investigate what happened in that city last week.
The Uzbek presidency today denied that Karimov had discussed the possibility of an international probe into the recent bloodshed with Annan, describing claims to the contrary as “yet another invention of foreign media.”
But the spokesman for the UN human rights commissioner, Jose Luis Diaz, told RFE/RL Karimov and Annan did touch upon this issue. “The secretary-general, Kofi Annan, and the [Uzbek] president had a telephone conversation yesterday, in which it transpired that the Uzbek authorities would not welcome such an investigation at this point,” Diaz said.
Today, the European Union called upon Karimov to rethink his position not to allow an independent probe. Cristina Gallach, a spokeswoman for EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana, told reporters in Brussels that the 25-member bloc's foreign ministers will on 23 May call for an urgent inquiry into last week's violence.
Diaz said it remained unclear whether Karimov’s refusal to allow international investigators into Andijon should be considered as definite, or as a maneuver to bid time.
“We don’t know," Diaz said. "We hope that the [Uzbek] president can be persuaded to allow an independent and transparent investigative process into the country so that the events and the circumstances of these events in Andijon can be clarified. I think that would be in the interest of the Uzbek people and the international community to set the record straight on what happened there.”
UN Human Rights Commissioner Arbour yesterday said she was “deeply concerned” by reports of indiscriminate and excessive use of force by Uzbek security officials during last week’s crackdown. Arbour had also joined her voice to that of some Western European countries calling for an independent probe into the causes and circumstances of the unrest in eastern Uzbekistan.
Karimov reportedly told Annan yesterday that he thinks the two-hour tour of Andijon foreign diplomats and journalists were authorized to make earlier this week was enough for the time being.
Uzbek authorities did not allow diplomats and reporters to move freely across the city and meet with residents. The closely supervised foreign visitors were not even shown the actual site of the bloodshed outside a school in Andijon’s Cholpon Avenue.
Diaz says the visit, however useful it may eventually prove, cannot be considered enough. “I don’t think that that visit can be considered a substitute for an international and independent fact-finding process, or investigation," he said. "I think you’d need a much more systematic and professional inquiry to find out what happened there.”
Uzbek authorities have put last week’s toll at 169 dead, including 32 soldiers. But Uzbekistan’s opposition and human rights groups blame security forces for at least 750 civilian deaths and as many as 1,000.
In a joint statement released yesterday, the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation of Human Rights and the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan say up to 1,000 unarmed civilians may have been killed in Andijon and Pakhtaobod – including a number of wounded that were reportedly summarily executed.
The two organizations also denounce the wave of arbitrary detentions that followed the bloodshed and the information blockade imposed by the Uzbek government during the crackdown.
Diaz says the widely differing accounts of what really happened in eastern Uzbekistan in the past week make it all the more necessary to conduct what he described as an “independent, transparent, and credible” investigation.[For more on these events, see RFE/RL's dedicated webpage: Unrest in Uzbekistan]Click here for a gallery of images from the violence in eastern Uzbekistan on 13-14 May.See also:
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Central Asia: Are Governments Too Quick To Blame Unrest On Islamic Militants?
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Protesters Charge Officials With Using Extremism Charges To Target Entrepreneurs
Analysis: Economic Concerns Primary In Andijon