Prague, 30 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The ghosts of Andijon have returned to haunt the Uzbek government. This time it is the European Union that has conjured up memories of what rights groups call the May massacre in eastern Uzbekistan.
EU ambassadors meetings in Brussels yesterday decided it is time for a public demonstration of the EU's unhappiness with Tashkent's for refusing to allow an independent international investigation into the events.
The EU ambassadors agreed to a set of sanctions against Tashkent that will be officially announced at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on 3 October. The measures include a ban on exports of arms and military equipment to Tashkent and a reduction in EU aid.
A spokesman for the Uzbek Foreign Ministry, Ilhom Zakirov, told RFE/RL today that Tashkent has no official reaction to the EU move "insofar as a final decision has not yet been made and this matter is still being reviewed [by the EU]."
Alex Vatanka, the Eurasia editor of the London-based publication "Jane's Country Risk," described the impending EU sanctions as mainly symbolic but likely to have an effect on Tashkent's diplomatic relations.
"Uzbekistan, politically, has become such a headache for the European Union that they're likely to, now as we read, impose limited sanctions on Uzbekistan," Vatanka said. "I don't think necessarily that will change the mind or philosophy of the government of Uzbekistan but it is going to have implications for Uzbekistan's foreign policy."
The EU measure is the latest development in Uzbekistan's rapidly deteriorating relations with the West. Tashkent is already embroiled in a quarrel with Washington over its refusal to allow an independent investigation into the Andijon events.
Washington's criticism of Tashkent's actions in Andijon contributed to the Uzbek government's recent demand that the Americans leave an Uzbek air base by the end of this year. The air base had been used since late 2001 for operations in Afghanistan and was the cornerstone of Uzbekistan's role in the U.S.-led coalition.
The deterioration in U.S.-Uzbek relations has seen growing calls in the U.S. Congress for now breaking off any support for Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
Analysts say the increased Western pressure on Tashkent might not cause Tashkent to listen so much as to simply turn toward other allies who express less concern over human rights issues.
Congressmen Bill Delahunt (Democrat, Massachusetts) yesterday called on the U.S. administration to end Defense Department payments to the Uzbek government.
"In essence this is the culmination of a concern that I have shared for some time now and its an effort to bring to the attention of the Congress the conduct of Mr. Karimov, one of our partners in the so-called 'coalition of the willing,'" Delahunt told RFE/RL. "I think it's time that we be very clear, draw a very bright line, and disassociate ourselves from the Karimov government."
There are signs that the U.S. administration is also fast losing patience with Karimov. "The Washington Post" today quoted U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried as saying time is running out for Karimov to "respond to our message." Fried, who is touring Central Asia this week and already has visited Uzbekistan, said Washington is not interested in "six months" of diplomatic wrangling over Andijon.
But analysts say the increased Western pressure on Tashkent might not cause Tashkent to listen so much as to simply turn toward other allies who express less concern over human rights issues.
Vatanka said the cooling of relations with the EU and United States offers new opportunities to Russia and China to make gains in their rivalry with the West for influence in Central Asia.
"It will enable other states in the region, particularly Russia and China, to perhaps strengthen their support for the [Uzbek] regime and benefit from what is going to be a widening gap between Uzbekistan and the European Union," Vatanka said. "So far, since Andijon, all indications are that they're [Russia and China] more than happy to come in to the aid of Karimov in order to satisfy their foreign policy objectives in Uzbekistan and within Central Asia."
Both Russia and China have refused to criticize Karimov over Andijon since the beginning of the crisis.
"We, in fact, knew how all this was prepared [the events in Andijon], or at least we knew some of the elements [of the plan]," Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said of Moscow's position in June. "It's quite clear there was an external link. This helped us to take really an objective stance [on the events in Andijon] based on all circumstances of what had happened and [to avoid] any one-sided assessment which has only political considerations."
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Kong Quan, expressed Beijing's position very similarly just a month earlier -- in late May.
"About what happened in Uzbekistan recently, we think it's their internal affair, but we strongly support the government crackdown on separatists, terrorists, and extremists," Kong said. "We support Uzbekistan, together with other Central Asian countries, combining their efforts in order to maintain peace and development in Central Asia."
The dispute between the West and Uzbekistan is the over both how many people died in Andijon and how Tashkent handles domestic unrest.
Rights groups and witnesses claim hundreds of people, mainly unarmed protesters, were killed when Uzbek troops fired indiscriminately on protestors who had gathered in a central square in Andijon for an antigovernment rally on 13 May. The rally followed a violent jailbreak overnight.
A report by Galima Bukharbaeva of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) minutes after shooting started in Andijon gave an idea of the carnage.
"I was able to hide myself in an aryq (a small canal), and from there I saw wounded people being carried away from of the crowd," Bukharbaeva said. "I saw five men completely covered in blood being carried away in front of me. The people carrying them were also covered in blood. They said those people [being carried] were dead. They were just bodies; they didn't move. But I think some of them were wounded. There were five or maybe more people [wounded]. They were saying, 'Look, journalists, there are two or three dead bodies here.' But we couldn't look because the shooting continued."
The Uzbek government says 187 people were killed, most of them armed Islamic radicals and soldiers, police, and local officials. Karimov said two days after the event that radicals had sought to overthrow order in Uzbekistan.
"We have practically all the family names, and they are members of a current within Hizb ut-Tahrir that in Andijon are called Akramiya," Karimov said. "Their main purpose is to turn over the existing constitutional structure, to turn over the power in different places and found what is called a caliphate, that would unite all Islamites. The movement was categorically against all sorts of constitutional institutions, against a secular development of the events. That is their purpose."
(RFE/RL correspondent Robert McMahon contributed to this report.)[For more on the region, click here.]