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U.S. Again Urges Independent Inquiry into Violence in Uzbekistan

25 May 2005

State's Boucher voices concern about "arbitrary arrests and intimidation"

By Jeffrey Thomas
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The United States continues to call for an independent, transparent, credible investigation into the recent violence in and around the Uzbek city of Andijan.

"Our view and that of many others in the international community remains that Uzbekistan should make a credible and transparent assessment of events in Andijan, in cooperation with the international community; and in tandem, Uzbekistan needs to take some fundamental reforms," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher during his regular briefing for journalists May 24.

According to news reports, Uzbek government soldiers opened fire on thousands of protestors in the eastern Uzbekistan city of Andijan May 13 after demonstrators stormed a jail to free 23 men accused of Islamic extremism.

Witnesses, according to wire service reports, have put the death toll at 500, while Uzbek authorities have said 169 people died, most of them "bandits."

The United States condemned both the violent attack by armed individuals on the prison and government facilities in Andijan and the indiscriminate use of force against unarmed civilians by Uzbek authorities.

In the May 24 briefing, Boucher also expressed "great concern" about reports that the government of Uzbekistan is arresting human-rights and democracy activists.

"We're concerned that the government is trying to silence activists through arbitrary arrests and intimidation," he said. "Once again, we point out freedom of speech is essential for a credible accounting of these events, and we've called on these areas to be opened up to journalists, humanitarian workers, UN agencies, and others so that they can go in and find out what happened and take care of people who need their assistance."

In addition to making its views known to the government of Uzbekistan, the United States is having discussions with NATO, the United Nations, the European Union (EU), and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Boucher said.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called May 18 for an independent investigation into the causes and circumstances of the violence, a call supported by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

On May 24, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) issued a statement saying NATO is "deeply disturbed" by the recent violence and supports the U.N. call for an independent international inquiry.

"The Alliance expects all its Partners to fulfill their commitments to basic freedoms, human rights and other fundamental values," the NAC said. "Uzbekistan has undertaken these commitments in joining NATO's Partnership for Peace and Individual Partnership Action Plan, as well as within the OSCE framework."

“We will keep our relationship with Uzbekistan under close review, and call for transparency, cooperation with international organizations and domestic reform to strengthen democracy and the protection of human rights,” the NAC statement concluded.

Jean Asselborn, the foreign minister of Luxembourg, which currently holds the EU presidency, joined in the call for an independent international inquiry in a news conference on May 24.

The State Department said those arrested in Uzbekistan should be given due process in accordance with international standards, including credible evidence of criminal behavior.  "If such evidence is not forthcoming, those detained should be released," Boucher said.

"The international community, the Red Cross as well, should be allowed full and unfettered access to hospitals, prisons and detention centers in this area," he said.

A recent bus tour to the Andijan area organized by the Uzbek government could not be considered "even a partial substitute" for real international access to the area and a credible investigation, Boucher said.

Boucher has previously reiterated U.S. support for the Uzbek government's fight against terrorism while citing the U.S. government's longstanding call for democratic reforms that "allow people who have a peaceful view of Uzbekistan's evolution to find an outlet in the political system for that view."

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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