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Uzbekistan: Locals Report Mass Grave Near Andijon

As Uzbek authorities continue to insist that 173 people died in recent unrest in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon, rights activists claim the number of casualties could be as high as 1,000. The exact death toll remains unclear, and officials continue to dismiss international requests for an independent inquiry. But inhabitants of Andijon claim the existence of mass graves on the city's outskirts. RFE/RL visited one such site on 27 May, and was shown what appeared to be 37 gravesites. The following day, it was reported that the individual who had led RFE/RL to the site had since been stabbed to death.

Andijon, 30 May 2005 (RFE/RL) – Andijon inhabitants say the site of the purported mass grave in the district of Bogishamol appeared a week after the unrest on 13 May, a day that Uzbeks refer to as “bloody Friday.”

One of the gravediggers told RFE/RL that many graves had appeared within the past few days in Bogishamol. The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the corpses were wrapped in white sheets, as Muslim tradition requires.

However, those who ordered the corpses to be buried do not appear to have followed many other Muslim customs, he said. The gravedigger said he and his colleagues were ordered to put more than one body in each grave. And, he added, authorities used the service of non-Muslim gravediggers from a nearby Russian Orthodox cemetery when the first bodies were delivered.

“First, some 48 bodies were brought here," he said. "There were two bodies laid in each grave. They [authorities] didn’t let us approach this place. They had assistance from others, from a Russian cemetery’s gravediggers."

Isroiljon Kholdorov, the regional leader of the Erk (Freedom) opposition party in Andijon, is one of a few opposition members and independent human rights activists who have visited the mass grave in Bogishamol recently.

He told RFE/RL that authorities used trucks to bring the bodies for burial.

“We spoke to gravediggers at the cemetery. They told us that corpses were brought there in three MAZ [large cargo] trucks," Kholdorov said. "The gravediggers were not allowed to participate in the burial. They also told us that gravediggers from other cemeteries were brought to do the work. They say there are 37 graves with two corpses in each. So, there must be [74] bodies altogether."

RFE/RL could not independently confirm that there were bodies in the purported gravesites.
“First, some 48 bodies were brought here. There were two bodies laid in each grave. They [authorities] didn’t let us approach this place. They had assistance from others, from a Russian cemetery’s gravediggers."

The existence of mass graves could ultimately shed some light on the fate of apparent casualties of the 13 May crackdown. Uzbek authorities have raised the death toll from 169 to 173 in recent days, saying four more soldiers died from injuries suffered that day.

Rights groups and opposition parties have countered that the death toll might be as high as 1,000. Survivors and relatives have given accounts that at least several hundred civilians were killed by troops who fired into the crowd in Andijon on 13 May.

At the Bogishamol site, each grave has an accompanying number tag on it. Some of the burial mounds showed evidence of having been dug up since they were filled.

A local inhabitant told RFE/RL that some people had come and disinterred the bodies of loved ones and taken them home to rebury. They had turned the number tags inside out.

“Two days ago, I saw some people taking bodies out of graves," the local man said. "They were relatives of [victims].”

One elderly man,who lives in a neighborhood of Andijon, told RFE/RL that he has been attending burials and mourning services every day for victims of the 13 May violence.

“We go to many places for burial and mourning," he said. "We read the Koran and pray for them.”

One day after visiting the Bogishamol mass grave, RFE/RL learned that the individual that led it to the site -- a man in his late 50s named Juraboy -- had been stabbed to death by two unknown assailants. Details of his death remain unclear.

Andijon inhabitants claimed the mass grave in Bogishamol is not the only one that has appeared since 13 May on the city's outskirts.

(This an exclusive report filed by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. All correspondents' names have been withheld for their safety.)

[For more on recent events in Andijon, see RFE/RL's dedicated Unrest in Uzbekistan webpage.]

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