Daily archives: May 26, 2005

Uzbek army used British equipment in Andijan massacre

Uzbek massacre soldiers used Land Rovers in defiance of arms control promise

Discolsure threatens to embarass Government ahead of arms treaty at G8 summit in June

By Tom Baldwin writing in TimesOnline

BRITISH military equipment was used by troops who massacred hundreds of protesters in Uzbekistan this month despite government promises that it would block arms exports to tyrannical regimes.

Photographic evidence examined by The Times shows Uzbek soldiers crouching for cover alongside armoured Land Rover Defenders as they pointed guns at unarmed demonstrators in Andijan on May 13 ? when up to 500 men, women and children were shot dead.

The disclosure threatens to cause deep embarrassment for the Government ahead of a G8 summit next month when Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, will table Britain’s plans for an international arms trade treaty banning the sale of any weapons which might be used against civilians.

Labour claims that it has pioneered efforts to crack down on arms exports. Legislation passed by Parliament in 2002 is supposed to ensure that exports are prohibited to countries which fail EU standards on human rights, armed conflict and sustainable development. Uzbekistan, which the United Nations has condemned for the “systematic” use of torture, would certainly have fallen foul of these rules.

But campaign groups, along with Labour MPs such as Ann Clywd and Roger Berry, have repeatedly warned the Government that the law contains a “massive loophole” through which such regimes can still obtain British weapons.

It is believed that the armoured Land Rovers used in Andijan two weeks ago were assembled by a firm called Otokar in Turkey which has had a licence to produce the vehicles since 1987 ? a deal subsidised by the last Conservative Government. Next to the Uzbek flag on one of the vehicles photographed is a small Turkish crescent symbol. But the design and technology of the Defenders is British, as well as almost three quarters of the components, which are exported from Land Rover in Solihull.

The UK Working Group on Arms, an umbrella organisation which includes Amnesty International, the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) and SaferWorld, yesterday wrote to Alan Johnson, the Trade and Industry Secretary, to say the Uzbekistan massacre had realised their worst fears. One leading figure from the group said: “Before this episode came to light, the prospect of people like Islam Karimov (the Uzbek President) having access to our military equipment was only hypothetical. Now it has come true.”

They are demanding that the Government gets legally binding assurances about the “end-use” of all British-supplied equipment, as well as ensuring that UK-made components are not re-exported to another country without permission.

Paul Ingram, senior analyst with the BASIC think-tank, said: “Armoured vehicles such as the military Land Rovers used in Uzbekistan are crucial tools of oppression. The use of British technology in the killing of up to 500 unarmed demonstrators shows only too clearly that the Government has failed to grasp the nettle with licensed military production.

“It is high time they set up a licensing system for the agreements defence companies use to set up foreign production lines as tight as the licensing system for the export of the weapon systems themselves. The Government needs a stronger system of end-use controls.”

Brian Wood, from Amnesty, said: “Until we have agreed an international arms trade treaty, weapons will continue to get into the wrong hands and be used for human rights violations. The British Government is to be praised for backing the treaty; now it has a responsibility to make it a reality before more massacres are linked to British arms sales.”

The Defender, classified by the Government as a weapon, is very different from the Land Rovers sold to farmers and four-wheel-drive vehicle enthusiasts. Military specifications include reinforced body panels, bombproofed chassis, armoured plating offering high ballistic protection, bulletproof combat tyres, as well as specialist command, control and communications equipment. They can also be fitted with rotating hatches for a range of weapons including 7.62mm to .50in calibre heavy machineguns.

There is no suggestion that Land Rover has behaved illegally or improperly, while the Government has denied that any UK arms could have been used by the Uzbek security forces in the massacre. Although a handful of export licences for Land Rovers has been granted to Uzbekistan, these were either for private use or for American military in the country.

Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan who contested Mr Straw’s Blackburn seat as an Independent at the election, has stated that he refused licence applications for items such as night-vision goggles.

However, Turkey has close military ties with Uzbekistan and since 2001, credible reports suggest at least 48 armoured Land Rovers have been presented to Karimov’s Government. These vehicles alone could provide transport, command and communication and support operations for a battalion of troops.

A DTI spokesman last night said: “We have, to date, uncovered no evidence to suggest that the Land Rovers pictured in the recent troubles in Uzbekistan either originated from the UK or contained UK components. If such evidence is made available we would, of course, look closely at this, and consider its implications.

“Licensed production is not specifically controlled under export control legislation, but export licence applications do specifically ask whether the goods are to be used in a licensed production facility and this is taken into consideration.”

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“What we need in this region is an aircraft carrier in a smooth, calm sea and Uzbekistan is that aircraft carrier.”

The Spectator – Base Motives – (subscription only): Michael Andersen on the double standards behind US support for the brutal Uzbek President, Islam Karimov

To people in Central Asia, home to some of the most oppressive regimes in the world, President Bush’s inaugural speech in January was important. “When you stand for liberty, we will stand with you”, said Bush, and his words sounded very promising. Thirteen years after the collapse of the Soviet dictatorship, no country in Central Asia has yet held elections which could be described as even remotely free or fair. While the presidents, their families and entourages amass enormous fortunes, 80 per cent of the population struggles to survive on less than $1 a day.

Celebrating VE Day in the Baltic states, the US President lambasted the Soviet occupation and “secret deals to determine somebody else’s fate”. A couple of days later, speaking in front of 100,000 people in Tbilisi’s Freedom Square, the US president talked enthusiastically about “the idea of countries helping others become free” and “a rational, decent and humane foreign policy”.

“The path of freedom you chose is not easy, but you will not travel it alone,” Bush promised. As Julian Evans reported last week in these pages, the US is actively fomenting revolt in Belarus. In Central Asia, however, US policy is characterised not by supporting the oppressed, but by showering the oppressors with millions of dollars and political support in return for access to the region’s military installations and energy resources.

For three years experts have been warning against this hypocrisy. In the words of David Lewis, Central Asia director for the Crisis Group, “the list of countries which are described as tyrannies is very selective. Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan are exactly as tyrannical as Cuba or Iran, but are not on the list because they are security allies of the US. The double standards in US foreign policy are very clearly demonstrated in Central Asia. And there are no signs that this will change.”

The explanation is not difficult to find. Within a few weeks of 9/11, the Bush administration agreed to pay $500 million for a strategically important military base in Uzbekistan from where its special forces operate into Afghanistan. The other Central Asian countries immediately granted the US landing rights and intelligence-sharing. An old study mate of mine, now an adviser to Donald Rumsfeld, told me in Tashkent, “What we need in this region is an aircraft carrier in a smooth, calm sea and Uzbekistan is that aircraft carrier.” He laughed and told me to “grow up” when I asked him about the human rights abuses of the Uzbek regime. “Mr Rumsfeld is right,” he sarcastically told me, “Uzbekistan is stable – stable and quiet as a graveyard.”

The Uzbek President Islam Karimov certainly seems pretty stable. In January 2002 he extended his rule until 2020. “Sometimes authoritative methods are necessary,” he said. And two days later the US secretary of state Beth Jones was on Uzbek TV enthusing over the “new warmth” between the two countries, wishing the dictator a very happy birthday and inviting him to visit the White House.

The following spring the Uzbek police who receive $80 million a year from the US boiled two prisoners to death; an act which did not deter Colin Powell, a couple of months later, from testifying to Congress that Uzbekistan is “making progress”. “Such statements are designed to keep the Uzbek regime happy and to fool people in the US,” says an angry Matilda Bogner from the Human Rights Watch office in Tashkent.

“US foreign policy in Central Asia is run by the Pentagon,” says David Lewis. “In the summer of 2004 Congress forced the State Department to reduce its funding to Uzbekistan because of human rights abuses. But two weeks later the Pentagon gave $25 million to the Uzbek government. This is a clear signal to the Uzbek regime not to take international criticism seriously.”

Many Western diplomats in Tashkent were disgusted with the US policy, but their governments kept them “on message”. That is until Craig Murray arrived. At 44, Murray was Britain’s youngest ambassador, with a promising career ahead of him. With the waistcoat of his three-piece suit barely concealing his pot-belly, his thick glasses and unkempt grey hair, he looked like a quirky professor from a softer, more decent era. Uzbekistan shocked him. “At the Foreign Office, they prepared me with language lessons, but nobody ever mentioned the 10,000 political and religious prisoners,” he said.

In October 2002 the US ambassador gave a speech in which he praised the close relations between the US and Uzbekistan and argued that Uzbekistan had made “some progress” on “democratic reforms and human rights”. The broad smile he bestowed on his new British colleague as he handed over the microphone quickly disappeared. “Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy,” said Craig Murray, adding (and contradicting what his US colleague had just said), “nor does it appear to be moving in the direction of democracy.” He then described, in detail, the case of the two boiled prisoners.

“Murray is a finished man here,” one US top diplomat told me over lunch the next day. “A shame that Blair could only find an alcoholic to send here,” another remarked.

Murray went on to compare Karimov with Saddam Hussein: “Why do we remove one dictator and support another who is just as bad?” he cabled home. He also protested against “extraordinary rendition” when suspected terrorists are delivered by the CIA for interrogation to countries well known for using torture, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Uzbekistan.

“In Central Asia, Bush applies the model which failed in Iran,” Bahodir Musayev, a Tashkent sociologist, told me. “First priority the Shah, second priority the military and, at the bottom, the population. The US support for Karimov has led to a genocide. Anybody who disagrees with the regime is exterminated…only the extreme Islamic underground opposition has managed to survive.”

In 2004 a number of suicide attacks on the brutal Uzbek police, as well as one on the US embassy, provided worrying evidence that the Karimov regime is indeed provoking such a radicalisation. The bloodshed started last Friday in Andizhan, a region 10 miles from where I used to live. Here you can find villages where most families have one or more relatives (often youths of between 12 and 20) serving long jail sentences for having a Muslim beard or for conducting prayer meetings in their houses. In some streets there are practically no young men aged between 18 and 35 left.

This time the violence was the culmination of demonstrations which had been going on for weeks over a trial of 23 local businessmen. Without a shred of evidence, the Uzbek regime accused the 23 of being Islamic terrorists. Several of the men do belong to the group Akramia, a group of pious Muslims named after its founder, Akram Yuldashev, an Islamic dissident who was jailed in 1999 for allegedly planning President Karimovs overthrow. The Akramis are very able businessmen and form the heart of the small business community in Andizhan, providing several thousand jobs in the area. Many there believe the charges were trumped up by local officials in order to seize the property of the accused.

After weeks of orderly demonstrations for the release of the 23, armed gunmen stormed the prison and freed not only the 23 but 2,000 other prisoners and seized a government building and 10 police hostages. Soon thereafter thousands of people converged on the city’s main square for an anti-government rally. According to all independent accounts this was completely peaceful. Many women and children could be seen in the few pictures that appear on the internet the Uzbek government then closed off the region in an attempt to quash both the demonstrators and the story. Within a few hours the army attacked the crowd; according to many eye-witnesses, they fired indiscriminately, killing hundreds.

“The innocent perished,” Nadyr, a worker at the Andizhan market, told the AFP news agency. “They placed weapons near the killed civilians to make people think that they were terrorists.”

The Uzbek President immediately blamed Hizb-ut-Tahrir for the violence. “The centre of planning was in southern Kyrgyzstan and the territory of the Ferghana Valley,” he said. “Their aim is to overthrow the constitutional regime.” Karimov also claimed that his security services had tapped phone conversations between the rebels and their colleagues in neighbouring Kyrgyz cities of Osh and Jalalabad just across the border, and even in Afghanistan. As anybody knows who has ever used a phone in this part of the world, the idea of such calls is nonsense. Hizb-ut-Tahrir in Central Asia is an outlandish but absolutely peaceful sect. Its goal is to (re)establish an Islamic Caliphate from North Africa across Arabia to Central Asia. Despite many attempts by Central Asian regimes, Hizb-ut-Tahrir has never been proved to have used violence, and it has swiftly denied any involvement in Andizhan.

“The terrorists of tomorrow are the people whose rights are trodden on today,” Craig Murray said to me in the summer of 2003. Later that night a stooped old woman approached me as I left the British embassy. Her son had been jailed for 20 years for attending private prayer meetings. Murray had tried to help him. She was afraid to go in but said, “Please tell Mr Murray that I pray for him. Britain should be proud to have such an honest man as its representative.”

A month later Craig Murray was locked out of his embassy, recalled to London and accused of power abuse, including being drunk on the job and selling visas for sex. Sources in the Foreign Office told me that “a systematic campaign” was waged against Murray, partly directed from Downing Street. His honesty cost Murray his job, his marriage, a nervous breakdown and a spell in hospital on suicide watch.

All accusations were later withdrawn, and in February Murray received ‘315,000 in redundancy from the Foreign Office. He used some of the money to stand for Parliament against his former boss, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in Blackburn. “There are fundamental values like human decency and opposition to torture which I hope we as Europeans stand for. In his eagerness to be George Bush’s poodle, Blair has sold out these values,” he says.

Michael Andersen has reported from Central Asia and the Caucasus, for the past four years.

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“If the journalists, correspondents come ‘ you should not tell them anything, otherwise we will find you.’

Human Rights Watch – Uzbekistan: Government Shuts Off Andijan: The government of Uzbekistan is trying to block information about the killings of hundreds of people in Andijan on May 13, Human Rights Watch said today.

A Human Rights Watch researcher who went to Andijan found new evidence of government measures that prevent the public from learning the full story about the killings and the government’s use of force.

Human Rights Watch urged the United States not to engage in any further discussions with Uzbekistan about making permanent its military base there, and called on the European Union to suspend a major trade agreement until the Uzbek government allows an independent, international inquiry into the May 13 killings.

‘The Uzbek authorities are trying to shut Andijan off from the world,’ said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. ‘They’re going to succeed unless other governments insist on a full international investigation, and soon.’

Nearly two weeks after the shootings, Andijan residents whom Human Rights Watch contacted clearly feared government retribution for speaking about the events. A woman who was wounded and lost two family members on May 13 told Human Rights Watch:

‘I am so scared, I don’t want anything, I don’t want any justice. Don’t tell our names, don’t say you came to our house ‘ just say you heard about what happened to us from other people.’

Several people told Human Rights Watch that police had warned them not to talk to journalists or other ‘outsiders.’

One person told Human Rights Watch:

‘Last night there was an [identification] check throughout the neighborhood. Several policemen were checking the documents in every house. They warned us, ‘If the journalists, correspondents come ‘ you should not tell them anything, otherwise we will find you.”

The same person warned Human Rights Watch not to go to the local cemetery where there were reportedly visibly fresh graves, because ‘there is an informant sitting near the gates watching for any strangers who come to the cemetery.’

Andijan remains essentially closed to journalists and human rights investigators. Police have either forced foreign journalists in Andijan to leave or threatened them and their support staff. Police have warned taxi drivers not to take foreign passengers to Andijan. Any traveler to the city must first pass through numerous checkpoints and undergo thorough searches…

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