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Central Asia Report: June 2, 2005

2 June 2005, Volume 5, Number 20

WEEK AT A GLANCE (23-30 May): Kazakhstan hosted high-level visitors from Turkey and Ukraine against a backdrop of new oil-export prospects. Turkish Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdogan met with Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov for talks focused on expanding trade ties and cooperating in the fight against terrorism and organized crime. Ukrainian President Vladimir Yushchenko met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who said that Kazakhstan might be willing to become a "shareholder" in a project to extend Ukraine's Odessa-Brody pipeline to Gdansk in order to gain access to the Baltics. Nazarbaev also attended the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline in Baku on 25 May. And while Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have yet to finalize an agreement on exports of Kazakh oil through the BTC, Prime Minister Akhmetov noted that Kazakhstan plans eventually to pump 30 million tons of oil each year through the newly inaugurated pipeline.

Acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev addressed a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna, urging donor states to boost investment and grant-based support for Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia. Back in Bishkek, the OSCE opened its election-observer mission in preparation for the 10 July presidential election in Kyrgyzstan. The plight of some 500 Uzbek asylum seekers in Kyrgyzstan continued to concern rights organizations, which urged the Kyrgyz government not to repatriate them. And rumors flew over the possibility of a new military base in Osh, variously reported as Russian, Chinese, or affiliated with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Acting President Bakiev told a Russian newspaper that a base could appear within the framework of the CSTO or SCO, but other officials downplayed the idea.

Ghaffor Mirzoev, former head of Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency and the presidential guard, faced 73 charges under 33 articles of the Criminal Code, including murder and terrorism, even as prosecutors extended the investigation period of his case for a sixth time (until 6 July). And a court sentenced seven members of the Bayat group to long jail terms for murder, assault, and robbery. The group had initially been presented as a religious extremist organization, but a prosecutor said that the investigation showed that it was instead an organized-crime group.

The aftermath of the violence in Andijon continued to ripple through Uzbekistan. Human rights groups warned of a crackdown amid reports of arrests and harassment. Three U.S. Senators visited Tashkent, issuing tough calls for an independent inquiry into reports that troops opened fire on demonstrators on Andijon on 13 May. Uzbek officials declined to meet with them, however. Meanwhile, President Karimov enjoyed a warm reception on a visit to China. Before leaving, he strongly rebuffed appeals for an independent investigation. In China he signed a treaty on "friendly and cooperative partnership" and inked a deal for a $600-million oil joint venture. Elsewhere, the U.S. State Department designated the Islamic Jihad Group a terrorist organization, describing it as a splinter group of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and blaming it for a series of bombings and shootouts in Bukhara and Tashkent in March-April 2004 that claimed 47 lives.

THE PLIGHT OF SOVEREIGNTY IN UZBEKISTAN. We do not know how many people died in Andijon on 13 May, or even where their bodies lie. The Uzbek government maintains that 173 people were killed in a clash between police and armed religious extremists. Independent eyewitness accounts indicate that hundreds perished when troops turned machine guns on unarmed demonstrators. Western observers and governments have reacted with a combination of outrage at the reported atrocity and concern at the prospect of instability in Central Asia's most populous nation. But a survey of responses reveals an alarming paucity of concrete proposals beyond pressure for an independent investigation and, should that fail, disengagement from the government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. The root of the trouble lies not in observers' analyses, which are more often than not insightful and considered, but rather in a world order that has no ready solution to the contradiction between the desire for universal standards of human and political rights and a commitment to the principle of inviolable national sovereignty.

The most common response to events in Andijon was a call to exert pressure on Uzbek President Islam Karimov to allow an independent investigation and, more broadly, institute political and economic reforms. In a typical statement, Britain's "The Times" wrote on 16 May that "pressure must now be put on Mr. Karimov to change course before his country and the entire unstable but strategic region are engulfed." Writing in Switzerland's "Le Temps" on 24 May, Alain Deletroiz urged a bilateral great-power push to hasten Karimov's departure: "If it is true that troops opened fire on an unarmed crowd, then Karimov should resign. Not to push him toward the exit now, to continue to consider him a viable statesman, would be an error for which the world will pay sooner or later in the form of an explosion in Uzbekistan. Will Moscow and Washington complete this analysis and take the necessary measures before it is too late?" Ariel Cohen suggested an even broader coalition in an 18 May op-ed in "The Washington Times" to avoid an outbreak of religious extremism in Uzbekistan: "Uzbekistan's neighbors and the United States, Russia, China, European Union, the OSCE, and the UN should prod Mr. Karimov to find a way out of the current crisis."

But what exactly would pressure, prods, and pushes entail? When observers strayed into specifics -- and many did not, as the examples above suggest -- they tended to focus on reducing engagement with an unjustifiably odious regime, often couching their recommendations in the context of U.S.-Uzbek relations. "The New York Times" put it succinctly in a 19 May editorial: "[The Bush administration] should start looking into ways to cut off Mr. Karimov immediately." Stephen Schwartz and William Kristol, writing in "The Weekly Standard" on 30 May, fleshed out the argument, calling on U.S. President George Bush "to lead the international pressure" for "trustworthy investigators to travel to Andijon and render a verdict on the events there. That verdict will likely be harsh for Karimov, and it should have consequences for U.S. aid to and support for the regime." Schwartz and Kristol note in closing that "the principle of linkage between a regime's behavior and relations with the United States must be reestablished. And if not in Uzbekistan, where we have so much leverage, how seriously will others take our promises and our warnings?"

In a more global statement of a substantially similar argument, Jonathan Freedland, writing in "The Guardian" on 18 May, used recent events in Uzbekistan to urge a different approach to repressive regimes in general. He reasoned that "if the West made the vast financial and military aid it already gives to these regimes conditional on perhaps a three-year program of gradual liberalization -- lifting emergency laws, allowing proper funding of political parties -- then soon some space would open up." He concluded, "That surely would be more logically consistent than the current, contradictory reliance on tyrants to advance the cause of freedom. And it might have a chance of working in practice -- even in a place as benighted as Uzbekistan."

But is the financial and military aid to Uzbekistan really so vast? Is there really so much leverage? In a meticulously researched 25 May report titled "The Andijon Uprising," International Crisis Group indicated that perceptions may outstrip reality when it comes to U.S. assistance to Uzbekistan:

"U.S. assistance to Uzbekistan is relatively small and has declined in the past several years. Assistance was $219.8 million in 2002, but $86.1 million in 2003 and is down to some $38 million in 2005, of which $11 million is earmarked for security assistance, at least some of which may be held back, as it was the previous year, because of unhappiness over the human rights record. A significant portion of the security assistance is for the cleanup of Soviet-era biological warfare and nuclear facilities and border-control training. Nevertheless, there is a widespread perception among Uzbeks that the U.S. strongly backs an increasingly unpopular regime. This perception is fed by the prominence the regime gives to high-level visits and other contacts and belief that payments connected to the U.S. use of the military base at Khanabad also add significantly to the transfer of money."

A recent visit to Uzbekistan by three U.S. senators suggested, however, that the prominence of such high-level contacts is rapidly waning. Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and John Sununu took a hard line in Tashkent on 29 May. Senator McCain said, "We are here today because we are concerned about recent events that have taken place, which entailed the killing of innocent people," RFE/RL reported. At a news conference the next day in Bishkek, McCain stressed: "We are not pleased at events in Uzbekistan. We repeat our demand for a full and complete investigation by the OSCE of the massacre [in Andijon] that occurred just a few days ago," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. McCain and Graham stressed that it will be "very difficult" for the United States to maintain its current level of relations with Uzbekistan in the absence of an impartial investigation, Reuters reported. But official Tashkent was not in a mood to listen. As Senator McCain put it, "No [Uzbek] government officials agreed to meet with us."

The senators' visit, which official Uzbek media pointedly ignored, underscored a prescient commentary offered by Eurasia Insight on 18 May. Noting that "Uzbekistan stands at a crossroads, where all routes seem to be dead ends," Eurasia had glumly warned, "Even if the West gets serious after Andijon, the threat of punitive measures may be unable at this stage to produce the desired result."

Not all observers limited themselves to calls for prodding and pressure, though. In a 20 May article in "Slate," Fred Kaplan enlivened by now familiar counsel to "shrug and go" with the following: "One can imagine U.S. intelligence agents in Uzbekistan (and it's naive to think there aren't any) approaching [Interior Minister Zokir Almatov or secret police chief Rustam Inoyatov] and offering them a deal: We will help you topple Karimov, and help you stay in power, if you promise to institute real reforms." Understandably terming such an approach "risky" and "fanciful," Kaplan allowed that "Bush and his team may have no appetite or opportunity for it. In that case, they should explain their appetite for staying in Uzbekistan and associating with Karimov -- or leave as soon as possible."

But if the international community shrugs and goes because it has decided that the odor emanating from Uzbekistan's government is too strong to be tolerated, where does that leave the Uzbek people? If foreign governments respond to the reported horrors of Andijon by reducing their level of engagement, how much leverage will they have? EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner addressed the issue on 23 May, explaining that the EU does not plan to suspend annual aid of 10 million euros ($12.6 million) to Uzbekistan, AP reported. Ferrero-Waldner said, "What would we achieve by suspending the aid? ...For the time being, there is no other way than to try to engage President Karimov in some sort of dialogue and call for an independent investigation."

For now, President Karimov isn't budging. If anything, the latest reports indicate a crackdown against any and all manifestations of dissent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005). A correspondent for Russia's "Versiya" recently managed to spend two days in Andijon, although Uzbek officials have encircled the city with roadblocks and denied journalists access. In a 30 May report, he wrote, "Arrests are taking place throughout the city. They're grabbing those who are suspected of attending the antigovernment demonstration [on 13 May], arresting their relatives and close friends."

At the same time, mounting evidence points to an ongoing cover-up. On 27 May, RFE/RL visited what appeared to be a mass grave in Andijon containing 37 gravesites. Isroiljon Kholdorov, the regional leader of the banned Erk opposition party, told RFE/RL that local gravediggers said bodies were brought in trucks to the site, located in a district of Andijon called Bogishamol, after the violence on 13 May. He said, "[The gravediggers] say there are 37 graves with two corpses in each. So, there must be [74] bodies altogether." RFE/RL later learned that the guide who led the way to the site, a man in his late 50s named Juraboy, was stabbed to death by two unknown assailants.

Against the calls for an independent inquiry that such reports have prompted, President Karimov has advanced a simple argument -- national sovereignty. He articulated this most clearly in comments to the press on 25 May, Uzbek Radio reported. Addressing calls for an independent investigation, he said, "Uzbekistan is a sovereign state. ...I can even say in advance what their conclusions would be. The conclusions would be no different from those in Chechnya and other countries. We would be responsible for it for the rest of our lives, as if we were a guilty country and, as a poor thing, [be obligated to] beg them for forgiveness." He concluded, "Our view, my view, and our government's view is we think that the idea of setting up an international commission on investigating the Andijon events is groundless, and we will never agree to this."

In brandishing national sovereignty to ward off international appeals for an independent inquiry, President Karimov stands on firm ground. Outraged at reports of a massacre, outsiders press for change in a political system that has, they argue, violated principles that transcend national boundaries. While Karimov denies the charges, his real argument is that others' principles do not, in fact, transcend the borders of the nation-state he rules. The bulk of the independently collected evidence we now possess suggests that basic principles of life and liberty suffered grievous violations in Andijon. Yet a wealth of international experience testifies to the greater power of sovereignty. International pressure may yet bear fruit, but the real threat to President Karimov is more likely to come from the pressure that will build from within as he proceeds with his apparent intention to clamp down and close off Uzbek society.

UZBEK OFFICIALS REFUSE TO MEET WITH U.S. SENATE DELEGATION. Three U.S. senators traveled to the Uzbek capital Tashkent on 29 May to learn more about the recent violence in the east of the country and support calls for an international investigation into the events. However, no Uzbek government officials agreed to meet with the delegation comprising Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and John Sununu.

The three senators spoke at a news conference in Tashkent that was attended by representatives of four Uzbek opposition groups. The senators warned Uzbek authorities the 13 May shooting of civilians who were protesting in the eastern city of Andijon could not be overlooked.

Senator John McCain (Arizona) led the criticism. Calling the events in Andijon "shocking but not unexpected," McCain urged the Uzbek government to heed international calls for an independent investigation into the killings.

McCain recommended that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which Uzbekistan is a member, conduct that investigation and added that the U.S. government could not continue to enjoy good ties with Uzbekistan under the current circumstances.

"We believe there should be a complete investigation conducted by the OSCE and I believe that the United States must make the [Uzbek] government understand that a relationship is very difficult, if not impossible, if a government continues to repress its people," he said. "And history shows continued repression of human rights leads to tragedy such as the one that just took place."

McCain said the delegation met with four Uzbek opposition groups but no government official agreed to meet with them.

The death toll from the violence in east Uzbekistan that began on 13 May is estimated by opposition and human rights groups at up to 1,000 people. The Uzbek government says 173 people were killed, mostly what it calls "bandits."

McCain said there are several changes that are long overdue in Uzbekistan. He said the Uzbek government should allow registration of opposition political parties, cease putting economic pressure on the people, allow free media to function, and "don't go the way the Russians are."

Senator Sununu (New Hampshire) emphasized that the Uzbek government seemed to be backtracking on pledges of reform. Sununu said that compared to his first visit to Uzbekistan about three years ago, the situation in the country seemed worse now.

"At that time [three years ago] I think a lot of people were optimistic that there may be the beginnings of real reform or change in the country," Sununu said. "But today, I think the degree of economic and political repression we see is almost certainly greater."

The U.S. was slow to criticize the Uzbek government in the first days after the violence in Andijon. The Uzbek government explained the situation as having been fomented by Islamic extremists who attacked police and military forces and used civilians as human shields while attempting to seize Andijon and spread their rebellion.

The U.S. currently has hundreds of troops stationed at a military base in Uzbekistan as part of the international coalition fighting terrorism in neighboring Afghanistan. So Washington has proven sympathetic to the Uzbek government's battle against what Tashkent calls religious extremists.

The impact of the event on U.S.-Uzbek relations is the real question. Uzbekistan is not without allies, among them Russia and China. Neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have expressed, if not full support for the crackdown in Andijon, at least an understanding of why such harsh measures were needed.

U.S. Ambassador to Uzbekistan John Purnell was present at the senators' press conference and agreed that an OSCE investigation seems necessary.

"Of course, I am concerned about the impact of all these on the U.S.-Uzbek relations," he said. "There's no question about it. We will continue to urge Uzbek authorities to consider an international investigation. And, as the senator rightly points out, we think the OSCE is an excellent vehicle to participate in that kind of investigation."

The U.S. is in constant dialogue with the Uzbek authorities. However, Purnell said, the Andijon events "will undoubtedly have a real impact" on U.S.-Uzbek relations. He did not provide further details.

The three senators went on to Kyrgyzstan as they continued a regional tour. In Bishkek, McCain said he hopes Uzbek refugees who fled the violence will not be forced to return from Kyrgyzstan.

(Bruce Pannier; originally published on 30 May 2005.)

UZBEK LOCALS REPORT MASS GRAVE NEAR ANDIJON. As Uzbek authorities continue to insist that 173 people died in recent unrest in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon, rights activists claim the number of casualties could be as high as 1,000. The exact death toll remains unclear, and officials continue to dismiss international requests for an independent inquiry. But inhabitants of Andijon claim the existence of mass graves on the city's outskirts. RFE/RL visited one such site on 27 May, and was shown what appeared to be 37 gravesites. The following day, it was reported that the individual who had led RFE/RL to the site had since been stabbed to death.

Andijon inhabitants say the site of the purported mass grave in the district of Bogishamol appeared a week after the unrest on 13 May, a day that Uzbeks refer to as "bloody Friday."

One of the gravediggers told RFE/RL that many graves had appeared within the past few days in Bogishamol. The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the corpses were wrapped in white sheets, as Muslim tradition requires.

However, those who ordered the corpses to be buried do not appear to have followed many other Muslim customs, he said. The gravedigger said he and his colleagues were ordered to put more than one body in each grave. And, he added, authorities used the service of non-Muslim gravediggers from a nearby Russian Orthodox cemetery when the first bodies were delivered.

"First, some 48 bodies were brought here," he said. "There were two bodies laid in each grave. They [authorities] didn't let us approach this place. They had assistance from others, from a Russian cemetery's gravediggers."

Isroiljon Kholdorov, the regional leader of the Erk (Freedom) opposition party in Andijon, is one of a few opposition members and independent human rights activists who have visited the mass grave in Bogishamol recently.

He told RFE/RL that authorities used trucks to bring the bodies for burial.

"We spoke to gravediggers at the cemetery. They told us that corpses were brought there in three MAZ [large cargo] trucks," Kholdorov said. "The gravediggers were not allowed to participate in the burial. They also told us that gravediggers from other cemeteries were brought to do the work. They say there are 37 graves with two corpses in each. So, there must be [74] bodies altogether."

RFE/RL could not independently confirm that there were bodies in the purported gravesites.

The existence of mass graves could ultimately shed some light on the fate of apparent casualties of the 13 May crackdown. Uzbek authorities have raised the death toll from 169 to 173 in recent days, saying four more soldiers died from injuries suffered that day.

Rights groups and opposition parties have countered that the death toll might be as high as 1,000. Survivors and relatives have given accounts that at least several hundred civilians were killed by troops who fired into the crowd in Andijon on 13 May.

At the Bogishamol site, each grave has an accompanying number tag on it. Some of the burial mounds showed evidence of having been dug up since they were filled.

A local inhabitant told RFE/RL that some people had come and disinterred the bodies of loved ones and taken them home to rebury. They had turned the number tags inside out.

"Two days ago, I saw some people taking bodies out of graves," the local man said. "They were relatives of [victims]."

One elderly man, who lives in a neighborhood of Andijon, told RFE/RL that he has been attending burials and mourning services every day for victims of the 13 May violence.

"We go to many places for burial and mourning," he said. "We read the Koran and pray for them."

One day after visiting the Bogishamol mass grave, RFE/RL learned that the individual that led it to the site -- a man in his late 50s named Juraboy -- had been stabbed to death by two unknown assailants. Details of his death remain unclear.

Andijon inhabitants claimed the site in Bogishamol is not the only one that has appeared since 13 May on the city's outskirts.

(This an exclusive report filed by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. All correspondents' names have been withheld for their safety. Originally published on 30 May 2005.)

EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS OF KILLING IN ANDIJON. Many questions remain about the events of 13 May in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon, when state security forces fired on demonstrators, following attacks on a police station, military barracks, and prison. The government has blamed Islamist militants for the violence, and its official death toll of 169 is far less than figures given by opposition groups. They say 750 people or more were killed, many of them women and children. Government forces have ruled out an independent investigation of the events, and have prevented journalists and aid workers from entering the region, making it almost impossible to determine what actually happened in Andijon. But RFE/RL's Uzbek Service spoke with eyewitnesses about the day's bloodshed. These are their stories.

One Woman's Story

A 40-year-old woman describes how the day unfolded:

"On Friday, 13 May, we came to the square in the morning. People had gathered and a demonstration was under way. Everyone started to voice their complaints through a loudspeaker. People complained about small pensions and salaries, unemployment, and not even being able to pay the deposit for school textbooks.

"As people shared their concerns, the number of people grew. We sat there until the evening. It was getting close to 6 o'clock. A helicopter flew over us twice. We were all still busy voicing our concerns. Children came out to speak as well. We were upset when they told about going to the clinic with a headache, but the doctors told them, 'Unless you give us money, we won't do anything.' When the helicopter flew over, we didn't disperse.

"Suddenly, a commotion started. There were troops on an armored personnel carrier (APC) coming from the direction of the regional-administration building. They opened fire. The people standing at the edge were hit and fell down. I saw dead bodies and I saw wounded.

"The APCs and troops opened fire first. When they went back, the same thing happened. All of us were frightened by the sound of the shooting and we lay down on the ground. The bullets struck people's eyes and arms. One woman was killed. When we looked later, we saw that we'd been surrounded.

"We heard the shooting, and we started moving so that we wouldn't be caught in the middle. We went down the main road in the direction of Soy, thinking that whatever happens now, they won't shoot at the people. As we passed the communications building, the shooting started again. The troops opened fire. All of the women sat down on the ground.

"Some of the so-called Akramists (alleged members of the Akramiya militant group, who were blamed for the violence) were with us. But they didn't shoot. They said, 'We're not going to shoot. We didn't come here to fight. We came to demand our rights. We don't want to kill anyone. People, don't set shops on fire, don't set cars on fire, don't steal anything.' That's what they said.

"There wasn't enough space for me to sit down, and when I turned to look, the APC was getting closer. The soldiers were lying down and firing. A woman grabbed my sleeve and said that I would get hit if I didn't crouch down. I know that I crouched down. The bullets whizzed over me. I looked and saw that a bullet had hit a child behind me in the head. His brains splattered everywhere. The brains were all over us; we were covered in blood.

"The young men said to run to the right toward the fence. After they said this, some of them took bodies. The ones who didn't pick up bodies led the wounded and we ran toward the fence. There was a street off to the right, and we hid there.

"Everyone tried to get out along that street. 'If we follow this road, we'll reach Teshiktosh early in the morning,' they said. Women, children, all of us set out. We were wet, muddy, and bloody. We asked for clothes from people along the way. Someone gave us a suit; another one gave us a jumper. We would rest for five minutes along the way. People picked up and carried the women and children who couldn't walk.

"If we don't make it by dawn, they'll catch up with us and start shooting, we thought. But if we reach Teshiktosh and cross over to Kyrgyzstan, we'll be safe from the soldiers' bullets, we thought.

"In order to keep from sinking in the mud in the cotton fields, we came out on the highway for a while. Soldiers unexpectedly opened fire. They'd been waiting to ambush us. Those who were hit fell dead. Women screamed and threw themselves to the ground. The ones toward the back ran away. A six-year-old girl took a bullet in her leg. A woman was shot in the back. A young man died before my eyes. An old woman was shot in the leg. A lot of people were shot. We found a place to hide.

"Later, the women yelled to the soldiers that we didn't have any weapons. The young men made a white flag out of a shirt and raised it on a long branch. They were standing in front of the dead bodies and wounded people in the road.

"Later, people advised the women to find their way home without saying anything. But they said, 'We can't go. We came out for the truth. Now, what's done is done.' There's a river called Tentaksoy there. We went along the river and with difficulty made our way to a house.

"About 900 people had left the square. I don't know how many people died along the way."

Who opened fire?

The bloodshed that occurred in Andijon on 13-14 May has seared people's memories. These are several eyewitness accounts of who opened fire.

Photographer: I was taking pictures of the events. Three or four APCs (armored personnel carriers) arrived. I sat down in the middle of the road in order to capture better how impressive they are. When they were 100 meters away from the people, the APCs opened fire. We started to run because we were scared. Without warning, they started firing at the regional-administration building that stood behind us.

What happened wasn't an exchange of fire in the dictionary sense, since the shooting was all from one side. The troops were firing, supposedly at terrorists or these major Islamic criminals.

Woman: While people were peacefully airing their concerns, soldiers opened fire from the main street. Everyone tried to save themselves. There was no warning. The people aren't animals. They're human beings. They understand words. But they started firing, hunting us like wolves. Those who could ran away, and those who didn't run faced death. Men, women, and children ran. There were women running with children in their arms.

Nobody cared that people were getting killed; it was so that a handful of leaders can live.

Elderly man: There were a lot of people along both sides of the road -- women, children, men. It was 6:30 p.m. That's when the real shooting started. Suddenly, onlookers were shot down. As they went out toward Soy, the soldiers didn't spare anyone. After that, we fled as well.

When I came home, I couldn't sleep. I went out on the street early in the morning. The soldiers wouldn't let anyone get close to the dead bodies. They brought a KamAZ (large truck) and filled it with bodies. Before that, several vehicles had departed with bodies. They collected the bodies by evening. I saw them loading the men and women mixed in together.

They stacked the bodies like wood in the KamAZ, there were so many. When they brought a Zil [truck], you could still see the bodies even after they closed up the back. Those vehicles left in the direction of Soy.

There was a river of blood on the pavement. You could see blood in the ditches. The bodies of young men aged 20 to 30 lay crumpled. A woman arrived and began screaming. Her young brother had been a painter. He had a red bicycle. He'd been working at someone's place. They shot this kid to pieces. There was no one to help the woman. No one could help anyone.

Fifty-seven-year-old man: The attack started at six o'clock in the evening. After they opened fire on the crowd, people fled. As they left the square in the direction of Soy, soldiers were lying on the ground in two rows in front of School No. 15. They unleashed a barrage. They also had snipers located on the roofs of houses.

Elderly man: People in Andijon are devastated. They are deep in mourning. Many people died wrongly. There are countless people who cannot find the bodies of their vanished sons and daughters. Some can't find their fathers and mothers; others can't find their sisters and children. Not a trace of them remains.

How did Andijon's prosecutor die?

Uzbekistan's official media have reported that Andijon's prosecutor died a heroic death during recent unrest in the city. A woman who was on the square in front of the regional-administration building on 13 May and was forced to hide after what she saw provides her eyewitness account of what happened:

"They [the Akramists] said that they were holding the prosecutor and tax inspector, that they would bring them out before the people, and that if anyone had questions for them, they could ask them.

"They brought out the prosecutor. People asked one or two questions. Then, when they were bringing him back inside, people got angry and beat him. The 'Akramists' didn't hit him. 'Don't beat him,' they said. But the one or two people who were trying to bring him back inside couldn't protect him. The crowd beat him severely and he remained lying on the ground after that.

"People also had questions for the head tax inspector. People said that taxes were high and that they weren't able to pay them. He said that people were right to say this, that this or that decree by Karimov was wrong, and that the tax collectors themselves were unhappy with this. He promised to help ease the situation for people. They brought this man back inside.

"In order to protect the people who were leaving [the regional-administration building] with them, the rebels took the hostages and had them walk out in front. They said that they [the police] wouldn't shoot at their own people. They put them out in front so that if they opened fire, they'd hit their own people.

"We set out for Soy. But the soldiers who were lying in wait opened fire without any concern for anyone. The hostages were the first to be hit since they were in the first row. The soldiers saw which direction the crowd was headed, and they opened fire on the people without any warning.

"The soldiers were lying on the ground in a row. There were APCs as well. Even as we were walking along thinking that they wouldn't shoot, they opened fire.

"The dead who were shot on the way toward Soy included women and children. There had to be more dead bodies than the government said."

(Translated by Daniel Kimmage. Originally published on 28 May 2005.)

RELIGIOUS FAITHFUL IN KAZAKHSTAN FACE GREATER SCRUTINY IN NAME OF SECURITY. Draft legislation that would amend 11 laws is now awaiting approval by Kazakhstan's legislative upper house. The bill, which concerns many elements of the country's society -- including the media, nongovernmental organizations, and religious communities -- was drafted under the premise that it would strengthen national security. But the changes could further encroach on religious believers' rights.

Erlik Asylov, deputy prosecutor in South Kazakhstan region, told RFE/RL that local law enforcement agencies have recently detained and expelled Christian and Muslim missionaries.

"Two Spaniards holding papers from South Kazakhstan's Episcopate worked as missionaries in [the region], and we detained them. We have also arrested someone from the center for Koran research named 'Dal-Arkam.' I can't say for how long they have been operating but not for long, maybe one or two months," Asylov said.

In the same region, authorities tried to close down the seminary of the local branch of the South Korean-led Synbakyn Protestant church late last year. A foreign missionary had his visa cut short and had to leave Kazakhstan, though he has since been allowed to return.

A local leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, whose doctrine originates from India, has also reportedly encountered visa problems.

These moves followed the compulsory re-attestation of imams in the region, where many mosques operate outside the central Spiritual Administration of Muslims.

The Almaty-based religious expert Murtaza Bulutai suggested that religious communities have found a fertile ground in the republic to promote their doctrines.

"The religious situation becomes more and more complicated. And one wouldn't exaggerate by saying Kazakhstan is becoming a place for religious expansion," Bulutai said.

In an effort to increase control on religious activities in the country, the lower house of parliament, or Majilis, approved earlier this month wide-ranging national security amendments to 11 laws -- including the religion law.

The amendments were then sent on 17 May to the upper house, or Senate, for approval. If approved, they will then go to President Nursultan Nazarbaev for signature before coming into force.

Independent Deputy Amangeldi Aitaly has argued the draft law defends the "historic values" of the Kazakh nation against the expansion of foreign religious doctrines.

Felix Corley is editor of Forum 18, a Norway-based news agency covering religious-freedom issues. He said the amendments will cause unjustified suffering to law-abiding believers.

"The religion law is being amended to punish quite a lot of activities that are not currently subject to punishment. Although the latest amendments were made a little bid milder in the lower house of parliament they still fundamentally restrict ordinary people's right to religious freedom," Corley said.

According to the current law on religious associations, a religious community needs only 10 signatures but has to pay more than $100 to register. Although registration itself is not obligatory, in practice, people can currently be punished for conducting unregistered religious activities.

The proposed amendments to Kazakhstan's law on religion would for the first time formally forbid the activities of unregistered religious organizations.

A new article will be inserted the Code of Administrative Offenses to punish with heavy fines those leading, taking part in, or financially supporting unregistered or banned religious organizations.

"People cannot do anything unless they've been able to persuade the Justice Ministry to register their religious community. This will make it very difficult for small religious communities which are fewer than the number they would need to register. Muslims who want to practice outside the structures of the state-sanctioned Muslim Board would likely face penalties," Corley said.

Kazakhstan would thereby join neighboring Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in banning the activities of unregistered religious organizations.

The new law would also make missionary activities more difficult. Missionary work without the appropriate registration would attract a fine, while foreigners would be expelled from Kazakhstan.

Corley noted that national security can be grounds for tightening up certain freedoms. However, under international law, national security cannot justify restrictions upon the freedom of religion or belief:

"It seems to many people that this merely the government trying to guarantee its right to remain in power. At the moment authorities in Central Asia are getting very nervous about these revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. Why should believers be restricted just because political leaders are paranoid about their own political survival?" Corley said.

Earlier this year (21 February), President Nazarbaev signed a controversial new law on combating extremist activity. Human rights groups have expressed concerns that the definition of "extremism" in the law is so vague that it could be applied to any religious association.

(Antoine Blua, with contributions from Edige Magauin of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service. Originally published on 27 May 2005.)

SPONTANEOUS POPULAR UPRISING IN ANDIJON, OR TERRORIST-LED UPHEAVAL? The events leading up to the killing of reportedly hundreds of Uzbeks on 13 May in the eastern city of Andijon have been described in very different ways. President Islam Karimov contends that chaos was sparked by armed "bandits and terrorists" who attacked and seized a prison, releasing hundreds of inmates. But independent observers and locals use other terms -- such as "popular uprising" and "revolution" -- to describe what happened.

President Islam Karimov, addressing a news conference on 14 May, blamed "bandits and terrorists" who belonged to the outlawed Hizb ut-Tahrir -- a charge the London-based Islamic group quickly denied.

Three days later, Uzbek Prosecutor-General Rashid Qodirov laid out a fuller version of what purportedly happened in the early morning hours of 13 May. He told a news conference that a group of armed people seized a police station, then a military unit, and later a local prison.

"During the attack [on the police station], the criminals murdered four personnel of the patrol post, [and] four more were seriously wounded. They took 264 firearms, 40 grenades, and more than 8,000 bullets," Qodirov said. "After that, the same armed band raided the nearby military base and seized the huge amount of weaponry, including 53 machine guns, four rifles, and more than 2,000 bullets, as well as a ZIL-130 truck."

Uzbek authorities said the group then marched to the jail, releasing some 600 prisoners, including 23 businessmen charged with belonging to the banned Islamic group Akramiya and awaiting a court verdict.

It's no easy task to attack a police station, a military garrison, and a prison that has had one of the highest security systems in the former Soviet Union. Such an operation is unlikely to be carried out without weapons or some casualties.

However, independent human rights activists and many locals reject the government's contention that armed terrorists with funding from abroad carried out the operation.

According to them, it was relatives and former employees of the 23 defendants -- with no specific religious agenda. They say these people were protesting what they considered to be unfair charges leveled against the businessmen.

This week, "The New York Times" quoted an inmate named Abushakhir as saying that ordinary citizens dissatisfied with Karimov's rule had stormed the prison. He estimated their number at between 50 and 100, saying they were neither particularly religious nor experienced rebels.

Inmates themselves say the jailbreak came as a surprise and in their accounts suggested they were not acquainted with the attackers. However, freed prisoners might be reluctant to disclose any names of attackers, fearing their persecution if identified.

Shamsiddin Atamatov is one of the 23 businessmen. He spoke to RFE/RL on 20 May in a refugee camp in neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

"That night, we heard shootings. The guards in the corridor ran. We thought it was a beginning of war. Then, people came and broke in. Everyone ran outside. We did not expect anything like that. We had no idea about what was happening," Atamatov said.

Burkhoniddin Nuritdinov was also one of the 23 defendants. He told RFE/RL that he did not know who organized the jailbreak and the subsequent demonstrations.

"We'd never seen anything like that before. I'd never heard any shootings in my entire life. I was shocked. We went to the corridor and were standing there for a while. The crowd was growing and someone said: 'Let's go downstairs.' We went downstairs, still in shock. We gathered outside. It was very dark, there were no lights on. Someone said: 'If you want you can go to hokimiyat [the regional administration building]. We will demand our rights.' People marched toward hokimiyat," Nuritdinov said.

After taking over the public administration offices, authorities say the protestors took some 50 people hostage and used them as human shields. Former inmates have said that armed men took about 15 people hostage, including police officers, soldiers, firefighters, and civil servants.

Sharipjon Shakirov, who was among those who occupied official buildings, told RFE/RL that at least one soldier was taken hostage.

As news of the events spread, ordinary citizens began to fill Andijon's main square to rally for better living conditions. Many of them were acquainted with neither the protestors nor the 23 businessmen.

One after another, these people spoke about poverty, unemployment, corruption, police abuse, and violation of human rights. Their demands ranged from cutting utilities prices down to Karimov's resignation.

During the rally, the Uzbek interior minister, Zakir Almatov, negotiated with its leaders over the phone. They reportedly demanded the government release all political prisoners, grant political and human rights, and send a top official to address the rally. Almatov rejected the demands.

And that's apparently when the shooting started.

Karimov said he never gave the orders to shoot at civilians and that the first shots fired came from the crowd. There were also reports that some of the demonstrators were armed and threw stones at security forces.

Witnesses say armored personnel carriers and military trucks began moving along the edge of the crowd, firing into it. Some reports say this shooting came after stones were thrown at soldiers.

But among other witnesses, a protester who later ended up in the Suzaq refugee camp in Kyrgyzstan rejected that possibility in remarks to RFE/RL.

"I saw no armed people [among protestors]. How can ordinary people be armed, where can they get weapons? I didn't see any weapons," one male refugee said.

But while witnesses suggest several people were killed and wounded in this initial stage of violence, the real bloodbath appears to have come later.

As troop reinforcements began to arrive, the protesters began to group together and move forward in a bid to escape.

But they didn't get very far before shooting broke out on all sides -- head-on automatic gunfire, as well as shooting from snipers and riflemen from buildings.

As with the events, there are widely different views on just how many people were killed in Andijon and nearby areas.

Authorities say 169 people died in Andijon, among them 32 government soldiers.

Rights groups say troops may have killed as many as 1,000 unarmed people, including the next day near the Kyrgyz border.

One local doctor reported counting some 400 bodies in a school-turned-morgue.

Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Peasants), an unregistered opposition party, said its members counted at least 745 victims after going door to door in Andijon, Pakhtaobod, and Karasu.

However, despite numerous inquiries from reporters, the party has so far not released its list of victims.

Akbar Oripov is an Andijon-based opposition member. Based on the accounts of protestors and witnesses, he rejects the government's contention that there were exchanges of fire. He described the events as a one-sided "fusillade."

"There were serious reasons why those men took weapons. Of course, an attack on a military base or anything of this sort cannot be justified. But there are other things behind it. I believe it was a revolt of people who have never seen justice, who have always lived in a country where law means nothing and rights are violated. They rebelled against the abuse of power, but I think they were not very politicized [they didn't aim to overthrow the government]," Oripov said.

Oripov said he's conducting an independent investigation of the 13 May events, something that the European Union, United States and United Nations have all called for.

Karimov has so far rejected that call.

(Gulnoza Saidazimova, with contributions from RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. Originally published on 25 May 2005.)