Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow
Saturday June 4, 2005
The US and Israel have withdrawn non-essential diplomatic staff and their families from Uzbekistan, following warnings that they could be targeted by Islamist militants. The move came after weeks of unrest in the central Asian country following the massacre of hundreds of civilians in the town of Andijan on May 13.
George Bush joined the EU, UK, UN and Nato last week in calling for an independent international inquiry into the killings.
The US has forged an uncomfortable alliance with the government of Islam Karimov which has extended to funding the Uzbek security services because of an airbase the US has rented in the south of the country. The state department said: “The United States government has received information that terrorist groups are planning attacks, possibly against US interests in Uzbekistan in the very near future”.
Last month a man carrying fake explosives was shot dead by security guards outside Israel’s embassy in Tashkent, the capital. The US statement said al-Qaida, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Jihad Union were active in the country.
The American withdrawal may further strain relations between Washington and Tashkent, which is looking to Moscow and Beijing to act as new allies. The withdrawal came the day after Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said that Chechen terrorists and “remnants” of the Taliban were behind the Andijan uprising. He could not provide evidence to back the claim.