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Central Asia: Uzbek Security Service Steps Up Work In Neighboring Countries

Two citizens of Uzbekistan were imprisoned in mid-August in neighboring Tajikistan on charges of espionage. Tajik officials say one of the men is an agent with the Uzbek security service and the other a Defense Ministry officer. There have been several cases during the past six months of Uzbeks being jailed in Tajikistan on charges of spying and "attempting to destabilize" the country. There are indications the Uzbek security service has become more active in Kygyzstan as well -- particularly in the country's south, where many Uzbeks fled after the violence in Andijon in May.

Prague, 25 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Alisher Saipov is an independent journalist from the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh.

In July, he interviewed Qobiljon Parpiev, the alleged ringleader of the Andijon protests and a wanted man in Uzbekistan, where authorities have accused him of terrorist activities.

Soon afterward, Saipov says, he received a curious proposal.

“A local human rights activist, the head of the Law and Order human rights group, told me that an Uzbek security service officer wanted to talk to me about a very special offer," Saipov relates. "I said: ‘OK, tell him I can meet with him.' The man came. I was there with my friend. We talked. He said: ‘You know where Qobiljon Parpiev is. You’ve contacted him. If we catch him with your help, you’ll receive the 10,000-[dollar] reward promised for his capture.'"

Saipov says the man introduced himself by name and said he was an officer of the economic department of the Andijon regional branch of the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB).

Saipov says the SNB has intensified its activity in southern Kyrgyzstan since hundreds of Uzbeks flowed into the country seeking refuge following the Andijon violence.

Most of the Uzbek refugees were relocated to Romania in late July. But dozens more Uzbeks are believed to still be in hiding in the south of Kyrgyzstan. Some Kyrgyz citizens say Uzbek SNB officers have contacted them and asked for help in tracking down the refugees.

One woman from Osh says her son was summoned to an office of the Kyrgyz security service to be questioned by an Uzbek SNB officer.
“The activity of the Uzbek special services strengthened after the Andijon events. I think they are searching for organizers [of the Andijon protests] who might be hiding here in Khujand or Isfara. It’s very easy to cross the border despite all the guards."

The woman, who does not want her name to be used, says her son was visiting Andijon on 13 May and witnessed the bloody clashes between the protesters and government troops.

“They didn’t ask why and how he crossed the border and went [to Andijon]," she says of her son. "They immediately showed pictures of dead protesters and asked: ‘Do you recognize them? Do you want to be like them?’ They threatened him saying: ‘If we prove your guilt, your condition is going to be even worse than theirs.’”

Some Osh residents say the Uzbek special services were active in southern Kyrgyzstan long before the Andijon events. Dilyor Jumaboev, a member of the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, says the Uzbek SNB officers have become such a familiar sight that many local residents know them by name.

“Olim, the head of our neighborhood, was approached by the Uzbek SNB," Jumaboev says. "They had a conversation about Hizb ut-Tahrir members. In Kara-Suu, there are a lot of Uzbek security service officers. There are [men] from the Uzbek [SNB’s] antiterror department who feel free to operate here.”

Hizb ut-Tahrir is officially banned both in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan because of its alleged aim to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, in Central Asia. Government authorities accuse the group of conspiring to use violence to achieve its end, a charge Hizb ut-Tahrir denies.

Despite the ban, Hizb ut-Tahrir members in southern Kyrgyzstan are relatively free to distribute leaflets and participate in informal gatherings. Members in Uzbekistan, by contrast, are harshly persecuted and jailed.

Jumaboev says the Uzbek SNB has followed the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir members in southern Kyrgyzstan for the past several years. But recently it has adopted more aggressive tactics, promising residents financial rewards in exchange for help catching Hizb ut-Tahrir members and smuggling them across the border into Uzbekistan.

It remains unclear to what degree the Kyrgyz security service is collaborating on the efforts to round up local Hizb ut-Tahrir members. Both Saipov and Jumaboev say they have contacted Kyrgyz security officials about the activities of the Uzbek SNB in southern Kyrgyzstan, but received no information.

Talantbek Qojonov, the Osh city prosecutor, also refused to comment on the issue.

“I can’t answer this question because we don’t have any information about it," Qojonov says.

Uzbekistan routinely dismisses claims about the presence of SNB agents in Kyrgyzstan. RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contacted the Uzbek Embassy in Bishkek and received a simple denial.

“We already issued a press release on this occasion saying that this [information] is not true,” the embassy statement says.

The Uzbek SNB has also become a topic of debate in Tajikistan. Local media have reported extensively on the recent imprisonment of two Uzbek citizens on charges of espionage.

The Tajik National Security Ministry says the two men were detained in January for crossing the Tajik border illegally. The ministry statement says the men had also attempted to distribute "anticonstitutional leaflets" at the behest of "foreign special services" in order to disrupt the February parliamentary elections in the Zafarobod District near the Uzbek border.

Tajik officials say several Uzbeks have been jailed over the past half year on charges of spying and "attempting to destabilize" Tajikistan. The prison terms reportedly vary from five to 25 years.

Authorities in Tashkent have refused to comment on the prison cases.

Khulkar Yusupov is an editor with the independent Varorud news agency. Speaking from the Tajik city of Khujand, he tells RFE/RL the Uzbek SNB has been active in the country for years -- but now seems to stepping up its work even more.

“The activity of the Uzbek special services strengthened after the Andijon events," Yusupov says. "I think they are searching for organizers [of the Andijon protests] who might be hiding here in Khujand or Isfara. It’s very easy to cross the border despite all the guards."

Yusupov says Tajik authorities and state-owned media seem to have changed their stance on the Uzbek SNB activity. The media used to report about spies from an unnamed "neighboring country." But the recent trials have brought the issue out in the open -- even at the risk of harming relations with Uzbekistan.

Kyrgyzstan has yet to see similar trials. However, it may not be long before the situation changes there.

An analyst from a Kyrgyz government think tank tells RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that his team is preparing a report for the authorities recommending stronger measures to counter the activity of the Uzbek special services in Kyrgyzstan.

(RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondents Elmurod Jusupaliev and Alisher Akhmedov contributed to this report from Osh and Khujand, respectively.)

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