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EU Delegation Visits Uzbekistan

The body of one of the victims of the government crackdown is taken for burial in a cemetery in Andijon in May 2005 (epa) PRAGUE, December 11, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- A European Union delegation has arrived in Tashkent for talks with Uzbek officials about a bloody government crackdown in May 2005 in the eastern city of Andijon and the human rights situation in the country.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that the delegation was scheduled to meet with officials at the Prosecutor-General's Office, but he provided no further details.

Pierre Morel, the EU's special representative for Central Asia, was more specific.

In comments to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, he said the week-long mission will go to Andijon and is "composed of 14 experts, including specialists in judicial, police, and human rights affairs."

Morel said the visit comes roughly one month after Uzbekistan agreed to discuss last year's Andijon events with EU officials and start a human rights dialog with the bloc.

Morel stressed that the current visit is "not an investigation" into the Andijon unrest.

Uzbek authorities claim 187 people -- mostly security officers -- died in Andijon after opponents who they describe as foreign-sponsored religious fundamentalists took control of the city, which lies in the Ferghana Valley.

Rights activists in turn accuse Uzbek troops of killing hundreds of unarmed civilians while reestablishing control over the city.

Following President Islam Karimov's refusal to allow an international investigation into the unrest, the EU last year imposed a series of sanctions against his government.

Those include a 12-month arms embargo and visa ban on 12 officials who the bloc holds responsible for the bloodshed.

The EU on November 13 decided to extend the travel restrictions for another six months, and the arms embargo for another year.

But it voted to resume technical meetings with Uzbekistan.

In a statement issued on December 9, the New-York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) group said that the EU visit "provides an excellent opportunity to intervene forcefully on behalf of Uzbekistan's human rights community."

HRW said it hopes the delegation will press the Uzbek government to stop cracking down on civil society and release all jailed human rights defenders and their relatives.

It is still unclear whether the EU experts will meet with Uzbek rights activists during their stay in the country.

Central Asia In Focus

Central Asia In Focus

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