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UN’s Ban Calls On Uzbekistan To Improve Rights Record

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is on a tour of Central Asia.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in Uzbekistan on the third stop on his five-nation Central Asian tour, today told Uzbek authorities it is "time to deliver" on pledges to respect human rights.

Ban addressed a group of some 200 students at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy, saying "you have an important place in the universal agreements that bind us as a community of nations." Ban said he had similarly urged Uzbek President Islam Karimov to pay more attention to the issue of human rights when the UN secretary general met earlier with the Uzbek leader. Ban said "I expect that the Uzbekistan government will lead by example."

While calling on Uzbekistan to show greater respect for human rights, Ban was careful not to mention any specific examples and avoided bringing up the subject of Andijon.

The UN Human Rights Committee issued a critical report on Uzbekistan less than two weeks ago, in which there was a call for a fuller investigation into May 2005 violence in Andijon. The Uzbek government continues to say 187 people were killed when troops opened fire on protesters in an attempt to quell a coup attempt. Witnesses report the casualty toll was several times higher and that the majority of people killed by Uzbek troops in Andijon were peaceful demonstrators.

Ban has been carrying the message of greater respect for human rights to the Central Asian countries he has visited already -- Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan -- and is likely to be repeating that message as he travels further to Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.

Ban's trip has also focused on water issues in Central Asia, where water has always been scarce, but also where the population is continuing to increase rapidly. Ban flew around the Aral Sea on April 4 in a helicopter to view the damage caused by inefficient and over use of water for irrigation. Ban called it one of the worst environmental disasters of the world.

The secretary general visited the town of Muynak, once a fishing village but now located many kilometers from the shore of the shrinking Aral Sea. Ban said, "Standing on piers, on what were was once piers, I could not see anything - I could see only a cemetery of ships marooned in the sand. It was shocking."

The water from Central Asia's two great rivers -- the Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya -- is so overused by the region's population that the Syr-Darya no longer reaches the Aral Sea and the Amu-Darya is just a trickle by the time the river meets the sea.

Once the fourth largest inland body of water the greatly shrunken Aral is now ringed by white alkaline soils that winds blow for hundreds of kilometers in all direction, damaging the health of people living in those areas.

Water is certain to be an issue when Ban travels further to Tajikistan later today. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are in the midst of a huge dispute over Tajikistan's plans to build large hydropower plants. Tajikistan says it needs the power plants to alleviate the country's chronic power shortages, especially during winter months.

Uzbekistan fears that water diverted through Tajikistan's hydropower plants in winter to generate electricity will leave downstream countries, such as Uzbekistan, short of water for agriculture. Though Uzbekistan objects to Tajikistan constructing more of these plants, Uzbek authorities have not reduced the price Tajikistan must pay for supplies of Uzbek natural gas, which remains the chief source of energy for Tajikistan.

Both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are important transit countries for supplying military and civilian efforts in Afghanistan, Central Asia's neighbor to the south.

Central Asia is also rich in energy resources such as oil, natural gas and uranium that give the region further international importance. Ban has been careful to emphasize his message of respect for human rights while recognizing the value of the region for the international community.

RFE/RL correspondent Nikola Krastev contributed to this report