London Telegraph / The Independent – 2005-05-17 08:39:18
Refugees Put Uzbek Dead in Thousands
Deirdre Tynan / The (London) Telegraph
KARA SUU, KYRGYZSTAN (May 17, 2005) — Refugees who fled from the massacre committed by Uzbek security forces agreed on one thing yesterday: the number of dead is not 500 — the most common reported figure — but could be in the thousands.
As reports continued to come in of clashes spreading outside the town of Andizhan, a sergeant in charge of the bridge at the border village of Kara Suu said he believed that 2,000 had been massacred during three days.
There is no way to confirm numbers offered by refugees, but it seemed likely that when the truth emerges, the massacre in Uzbekistan, an American ally in the fight against terrorism, could become the deadliest assault on civilians since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
The Uzbek-Kyrgyz border at Kara-Suu was open periodically yesterday under the watchful eye of Kyrgyz soldiers armed with machineguns.
Kara-Suu, which is divided between the two former Soviet republics, was tense as traders hurried goods between the two sides of town, divided by a fast flowing river straddled by a makeshift metal bridge.
A few refugees from Andizhan remained in the town staying close to their Kyrgyz relatives and homes. Apart from the 500 believed dead in Andizhan on Friday, there were reports of further deaths in nearby areas.
Saidjahon Zaynabitdinov, the head of the local Appeal human rights group, said yesterday that government troops had killed about 200 demonstrators on Saturday in Pakhtabad, about 18 miles northeast of Andizhan.
Suvahuan, a mother of four in her 40s who fled the town on Saturday with her children, gave a harrowing account of the scene in Andizhan.
“They had snipers everywhere and they didn’t care who they shot down. I saw hundreds of people dead in the street. I saw them shoot boys, women and children,” she said “They shot at the crowd like animals. They were firing at us from helicopters. People got confused running everywhere, trying to hide in buildings or behind cars.”
Rakhmat, a trader who crossed the hastily rebuilt Kara-Suu river bridge, said he saw desperate refugees drown in the river swollen by spring rains. “President Islam Karimov took that bridge down in 1999 because he didn’t want us trading in Kyrgyzstan, that’s half the reason why there were protests in Andizhan, it was poverty not politics that drove people on to the streets.
“It was chaotic. I saw several people drown as they tried to cross the bridge. Anyone who says the protest was the work of militant Islamists is lying. It was the people, tired, poor, hungry people, not extremists, who took to the street. Anything else is Karimov’s propaganda,” he added.
The Kyrgyz department of defence last night hurried lorry loads of troops to the border area 15 miles west of Osh in the south of the country.
More than 2,000 Uzbek convicts, many of whom were imprisoned on charges of Islamic extremism, are still unaccounted for and are believed to be hiding in the Andizhan area 25 miles from the Kyrgyz border. The arsenal at Andizhan prison was looted of rifles and grenades, according to witnesses.
Kyrgyzstan has officially camped 560 Uzbek refugees in Jalal-Abad province, but many more are being housed by extended families and friends.
Gunfire was again reported in Andizhan last night prompting fears that Uzbek forces were flushing armed militants from their boltholes around the town for a final assault.
• Alec Russell, in Washington, writes: The Bush administration yesterday toughened its stance towards President Karimov, calling on him to ease his repressive control over the country. In the strongest language to date, the State Department said yesterday it was “deeply disturbed” by reports that soldiers in Uzbekistan fired on unarmed civilians.
Army ‘Kills 200’ in Second Uzbek City
As Thousands Head for Border
Peter Boehm in Andijan and Daniel Howden
(May 17, 2005) — Authorities in Uzbekistan have lost control of a key border town in the eastern Ferghana valley, despite a brutal clampdown that has so far claimed the lives of an estimated 700 people.
If reports of further killings can be confirmed the violence would be the most brutal of its kind in Asia since China gunned down hundreds of democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The hardline government of Islam Karimov, an ally of London and Washington in the “war on terror”, has dispatched an armoured force into the restive area in the east of the country after mass arrests of alleged radical Islamists sparked what appeared to be a popular uprising.
Saidjahon Zaynabitdinov, head of Appeal, a local human rights advocacy group, said troops had killed about 200 demonstrators on Saturday in Pakhtabad, just outside the city of Andijan, where witnesses saw security forces kill up to 500 civilians the previous night.
United Nations officials, rights groups and Kyrgyz border police said thousands of refugees who were fleeing the violence in and around Andijan had made for the nearby border area, leading to further unrest.
Security forces loyal to the regime of Mr Karimov had last night sealed off the town of Korasuv on the border with Kyrgyzstan.
Heavily armed police set up roadblocks on the approach to Korasuv and officials admitted they had lost control of the town, which is an economic lifeline to the more affluent and liberal Kyrgyzstan .
“There is no police in there and there is no civil administration there,” a police official said.
Andijan itself has been turned into a civilian ghost town. The city, which has a population of 300,000, was dominated yesterday by a massive military presence, reinforced by police on every street corner as the government reluctantly relaxed the strict controls in which reporters were ejected and the area sealed off on Sunday.
Outside the prison compound where 23 local businessman had been held in the incident that sparked the protests, a wrecked car sprayed with bullet holes gave an indication of the scale of fighting.
In the city centre, armoured personnel carriers, tanks and army trucks underlined the sense of a city under siege, while lorries loaded with soldiers carrying automatic rifles rumbled through.
The headquarters of the regional administration, where the protesters gathered in support of the insurrection, was still blocked off by soldiers. The blackened and charred upper storeys of what had been the nerve centre of Mr Karimov’s authority, pock-marked with bullet holes, bore witness to the fighting.
Mr Karimov has sought to blame the violence on radical Islamists – with alleged links to al-Qa’ida – attempting to overthrow the secular government in Tashkent. But human rights groups and independent observers, including the former British ambassador Craig Murray, say Mr Karimov was leading a brutal police state, propped up by the arbitrary detention and torture of Muslim dissidents protesting at the desperate economic conditions.
Separatist movements in the Ferghana valley, which runs across the eastern border into Kyrgyzstan, sprang up in the early Nineties in response to Tashkent’s persecution of minorities in the area. The security forces have waged a ruthless campaign to crush both the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which seeks a Muslim state in Ferghana, and Hizb ut-Tahrir, another Islamist group whose members have been blamed for a bomb attack and labelled “terrorists” by the Karimov regime.
Sympathy for the protesters has spread as far as the capital, where a small gathering of people risked the wrath of the authorities to lay flowers in commemoration of the bloodiest days of fighting in the country’s post-Soviet era.
“It was a black day in Uzbek history. We are ashamed,” said Tashpulat Yuldashev, a political analyst. “We dissidents have been long been afraid of standing up to express our discontent. But this time we can’t stay silent,” he said.
Many of the activists were wearing black armbands and ribbons.
The rebellion in the Ferghana valley has given the country’s fragmented and disorganised opposition movement a fresh momentum to unite and openly express opinions, Mr Yuldashev added. Opposition parties are banned from running in elections.
State television has so far ignored the uprising, while Western and Russian broadcasts have been cut off since the clashes began on Friday.
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