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Uzbekistan: Andijon Cover-Up Provokes EU Sanctions

By Ahto Lobjakas

Further details emerged in Brussels today about the sanctions EU foreign ministers are virtually certain to impose against Uzbekistan at their monthly meeting in Luxembourg on 3 October. Officials have made it clear the sanctions will remain in place as long as the Uzbek government continues to cover up what the EU -- among other international organizations and governments -- has described as a massacre of civilian demonstrators in Andijon in May.

Brussels, 30 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Officials in Brussels made clear that EU member states are determined to get to the bottom of the bloody events in Andijon in May. They confirmed that the upcoming EU foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg is virtually certain to agree a raft of sanctions on Tashkent in retaliation for what the bloc sees as a cover-up of the massacre by Tashkent.

The measures will include an arms embargo, preparations for a visa ban on top officials, aid cuts, and the suspension of parts of the EU-Uzbek Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PAC).

EU foreign ministers have twice before asked the Uzbek government to permit an independent international inquiry into the events in Andijon. Human rights organizations estimate hundreds of demonstrators died after being fired upon by Uzbek troops. The Uzbek government has refused an inquiry. Now, one official said today, the EU "has run out of patience."

Without commenting on planned EU sanctions, Emma Udwin, a European Commission spokeswoman, told RFE/RL that an inquiry is a central EU demand.

"We remain deeply concerned about the events in Andijon earlier this year," Udwin said. "At the present time we only have reports to go on, but those reports are extremely serious, the reports of loss of life, and how life was lost. It seems to us essential that an event of this gravity should be investigated by an international independent inquiry, so that all of us can know the truth."

Privately, diplomats point out that things might be a little more complicated. An EU source who asked not to be named told RFE/RL today that the holding of an inquiry would not necessarily be enough to satisfy the EU or lead to a normalization of relations with Uzbekistan. The official noted that "it would not help, if such an inquiry concluded the [Uzbek] authorities were killing people in the streets."

However, spokeswoman Udwin said an inquiry is unavoidable if Uzbekistan does want to normalize relations with the EU.

"If Uzbekistan has nothing to hide, it can only gain by holding such an inquiry and we have pressed Uzbekistan, pointing out that it is only harming its own interests if it continues to resist the holding of this kind of investigation, which the whole international community -- and not only the EU -- has called for," Udwin said.

An arms embargo should be announced on 3 October. The European Commission says it has already prepared the necessary legislation.

EU diplomats have told RFE/RL the planned arms embargo is largely a symbolic act, as there is no or little arms trade going on between EU member states and Tashkent. Uzbekistan, however, provides an important logistical foothold for countries such as Germany and Spain in their operations in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Stabilization Assistance Force (ISAF).

Tashkent has already evicted the United States from one of its bases, but has announced no steps against other countries. NATO officials have told RFE/RL previously that the alliance has prepared contingency plans to circumvent Uzbekistan if necessary.

The EU will also cut aid to Uzbekistan in 2006. Instead of 11.25 million euros ($13.6 million), the country will receive 9.25 million euros. Officials say that some of the remaining funds will be reoriented. Instead of going toward supporting political and economic reforms, as planned, some of the money will be used to fight poverty in the Ferghana Valley. Within the context of the anti-poverty drive in Ferghana Valley, part of the aid earmarked for Uzbekistan will now be spent in Kyrgyzstan.

One official said today that poverty in the region is seen as a root cause of the unrest in May.

Visa bans on Uzbek officials directly implicated in the Andijon events are also in the pipeline, but the EU has yet to assemble a list of targets.

The EU will announce on 3 October that it will suspend parts of its Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Uzbekistan. Officials in Brussels explained today that this will mean upcoming expert level meetings in areas such as justice and home affairs will be canceled. In July, the EU already canceled a round of lower-level trade and investment talks with Uzbekistan.

However, officials say, the European Commission wants to leave some channels of communication open, believing dialogue remains the best way to influence the Uzbek government. It is therefore possible that the ministerial level meeting of the EU-Uzbek Cooperation Council scheduled for later this autumn could yet take place.

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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