Tashkent, 21 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The OSCE has urged Uzbek President Islam Karimov to use moderation in dealing with Muslim activists in the Ferghana valley. OSCE officials said Karimov responded that firm action was required.
The exchange came at a meeting in Tashkent yesterday between Karimov and the chairman of the OSCE, Polish Foreign Minister Bronislav Geremek. The exchange was later described as "very frank."
About nine million people -- a third of Uzbekistan's population -- live in the Ferghana valley. It was the scene of rioting in 1990 and Uzbek government has several times expressed concern at what it considers as Muslim fundamentalism in the region. Last year the government detained a number of Ferghana Valley Islamic clerics on various charges. It also restricted the activities of some religious schools in the region.
Tension rose in January when seven policemen were killed in a clash in the valley. The incident was blamed on religious extremism. The OSCE office in Tashkent says the government responded sharply and it has received reports of scores of arrests.
According to OSCE officials, Karimov told Geremek yesterday that religious fundamentalism was the main threat to stability in the region and he could not ignore its dangers. He reminded the OSCE chairman that about 80 percent of the population in Uzbekistan and in surrounding countries are Muslims and that the use of religion as a political instrument could lead to destabilization, not only in Uzbekistan but also in neighboring countries.
Karimov argued that 70 years of Soviet communism had created a special kind of mentality which could be used by neo-communists and fundamentalist political activists. He told Geremek that in this situation he sometimes has to take "painful but necessary" measures to ensure stability.
OSCE officials traveling with Geremek said Karimov left the impression that he believed he had a personal role to play in blocking the danger of religious fundamentalism in Central Asia.
At one point, Karimov told Geremek that as the chairman of the OSCE he might disagree with the measures. But as an intellectual and a historian he should have some understanding for the measures taken.
The OSCE officials said that Karimov did not give any details. His answers were couched in general terms.
The OSCE officials said that during the discussion, Geremek reminded Karimov of Algeria's experience in trying to cope with religious fundamentalism. He argued that Algeria showed that repression actually helped strengthen the fundamentalists. He argued that extremists that could not win unless they were persecuted.
The OSCE officials said there was no indication that Karimov was convinced by Geremek's arguments.
Geremek and Karimov also discussed terrorism and violence in other countries, particularly in neighboring Tajikistan, where attacks on police officers and government officials continue despite the official cease-fire in the civil war. OSCE officials said the Uzbek government believes terrorists are trained at special camps in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. Government officials argued that what had happened in Tajikistan could also happen in other countries.
OSCE officials said that Karimov also expressed dissatisfaction with the way the organization treats its five Central Asian members. He said OSCE appeared to draw a line between Central Asia and its European members. He said that OSCE failed to recognize that unrest in Central Asia could endanger European security.
Geremek heard a similar warning when he visited Kazakhstan last week. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said he was disappointed that OSCE had not played a more active role during the five-year Tajik civil war. Like Karimov, the Kazakh leader said OSCE paid too little attention to Central Asia.
Geremek reminded both of them that OSCE has a permanent office in Uzbekistan and a special mission in Tajikistan. Geremek said he personally believed there should also be an OSCE mission in Kyrgyzstan.
During the talks in Tashkent, the OSCE chairman also asked the Uzbek president to register a non-government organization, the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, which was founded in 1992. It is linked to the opposition and considered by international organizations to be the main independent source on human rights abuses in Uzbekistan. The government has repeatedly declined to act on its registration petition, claiming there are technical problems with its paperwork.
Before his meeting with Karimov, Geremek met at the OSCE offices in Tashkent with representatives of the Human Rights Society and other non-government organizations. He was told that a member of the Human Rights Society, Shovriq Rozimurodov, had been arrested on April 5 on charges of illegal possession of 12 cartridges.
Rozimurodov is a former member of parliament and in 1990 was the only deputy who publicly opposed the election of Karimov as state president. He now leads the Qashqadaryo branch of the organization in southern Uzbekistan. Geremek was told the Human Rights Society believes the cartridges were planted in his apartment to provide a basis for his detention.