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U.S.: Rights Agency Hears Calls For More Pressure On Karimov

Islam Karimov A U.S. human rights panel has heard an appeal for more U.S. pressure on the Uzbek government to investigate the government crackdown last month in Andijan. The call came yesterday from journalists who witnessed the unrest in Andijon, as well as a leading Uzbek opposition figure and experts from nongovernmental organizations. They spoke at a session of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe that was dominated by concerns over Washington's response to Andijon.

Washington, 30 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Six weeks after the violence in Andijon, there are new calls for Washington to take a stronger line toward the Uzbek government.

The U.S. government has called for an international inquiry into President Islam Karimov's suppression of unrest in Andijon, and has disputed Tashkent's estimate of casualties.

But regional experts and activists say this is inadequate. Speaking on a panel convened by a U.S. human rights monitoring agency, they said Washington needs to increase pressure for an inquiry and reconsider its relationship with Karimov.

U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, is chairman of the agency -- the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. He said Uzbekistan posed a mounting dilemma for U.S. policymakers.

"How long can we work with such a leader without damaging our own interests? Are we risking long-term losses for short term gains? Are we strengthening terrorism or fighting it by aligning ourselves with President Karimov?" Brownback said.

Panelists agreed there appeared to be few immediate options in dealing with Karimov. Robert Temple, director of the International Crisis Group's Asia program, says Karimov has rebuffed a number of reform incentives from Washington in the past few years.

"It does seem that no array of incentives or pressures is capable of moving Karimov, particularly in terms of opening up the economy, lifting some of the extreme restrictions on individual economic activity that still exist," Temple said.

But he recommended a continued mix of incentives and pressures. He called for suspension of negotiations on the U.S. lease of the Karshi-Khanabad air base in Uzbekistan until Tashkent agrees to an investigation of the Andijan crackdown.

He also joined Brownback in calling for an invocation of the Moscow Mechanism by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). This would allow for the appointment of a special rapporteur to investigate extraordinary events, but requires cooperation from the host country.

A Central Asia expert with Human Rights Watch, Holly Cartner, told the agency that Washington must set a clear timeline for compliance with its demands. A continuing Uzbek refusal to accept an international investigation, she said, should result in a discontinuation of the U.S. military presence in the country.

"Even if it doesn't make a difference in the very short term for changing the Karimov government, changing its conduct, it's a very important signal that you send to the people of Uzbekistan who are ultimately the ones who have to hear the message that the U.S. government, that the EU and that others in the international community support them and stand with them," Cartner said.

The exiled chairman of Uzbekistan's Erk opposition party, Muhammad Salih, said he would prefer that a U.S. military presence remain in the country. He said this would provide an important counterweight to what he called Chinese "expansionist" interests in Uzbekistan.

But Salih also stressed the importance of continuing U.S. pressure for democratic reforms as a signal of the consistency of the Bush administration's pro-democracy agenda.

In a statement to the panel, Salih disputed claims by some analysts that Islamic fundamentalists were poised to seize power in Uzbekistan if Karimov lost power. He dismissed the impact of the Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic movement, saying they were too radical for most Uzbeks.

Two journalists who were in Andijon last month during the seizure of a local government facility also said events were not fomented by Islamic extremists.

Correspondent Galima Bukharbaeva of the nongovernmental Institute for War and Peace reporting and Marcus Bensmann of the Swiss newspaper "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" said they saw no signs of foreign-based fighters, such as Chechens or Taliban.

Bukharbaeva said the crowd that assembled on Bobur Square on 13 May was frustrated over the perceived unfairness of the trial of 23 local businessmen.

She said the crowd called for human rights and economic, social and political reforms. The government's response, she said, was to open fire unannounced on thousands of unarmed people.

"The shooting of Andijon citizens, everyone who was on the square at that time -- children, teenagers, women, old people, journalists -- took place in cold blood without mercy or pity. It was just simply professional mass murder," Bukharbaeva said.

The Uzbek government says 176 people were killed in the violence, mainly due to armed rebels. It repeated this week that the uprising was planned from abroad by mercenaries who were trained at military camps.

See also:

Is Uzbekistan Stable?

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