Rebels are tried but the massacre goes unpunished

From Jeremy Page writing in the Times Online

FIFTEEN men accused of organising an uprising in Uzbekistan go on trial today as human rights groups accuse the West of doing nothing to punish the Uzbek Government for the killings that followed.

The group is the first to be tried over the violence on May 13 in Andijan, which began with armed men taking over government buildings and ended with troops shooting anti-Government protesters.

President Karimov said that 187 people were killed, mostly Islamist terrorists. But witnesses said that more than 700 unarmed civilians were killed, and human rights activists draw parallels with the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing in 1989.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issue reports today accusing the Uzbek Government of further abuses and calling for an arms embargo and sanctions. Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said: ‘The US and the European Union appear to have backed off entirely rather than implement a more robust strategy to hold the Uzbek Government accountable for the loss of life.’

Uzbekistan is a member of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and has co-operation agreements with Nato and the EU. It refuses to allow an international inquiry into the killings, but no sanctions have been imposed against it.

Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador to Tashkent, said: ‘It’s appalling that Western governments aren’t doing anything at all.’ He called for travel bans on senior officials, as with Zimbabwe and Belarus, and to consider sanctions on Uzbek cotton, a key source of the Government’s income. ‘I’d argue that Uzbekistan is worse than Zimbabwe or Belarus,’ he said. ‘The men going on trial will all be found guilty. They will all have confessed under torture.’

Mr Murray was recalled last year after he accused Britain and the US of condoning torture in Uzbek prisons. At the time, the US was accused of softening its criticism of Uzbekistan because it had been allowed to use an airbase for operations in neighbouring Afghanistan since 2001.

However, in July, President Karimov ‘ who has been in power since before the Soviet Union’s collapse ‘ asked the Americans to leave within six months after Washington joined calls for an inquiry into the Andijan killings.

The US had also backed a plan by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to relocate to Romania 439 refugees who fled Andjian to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. Another 11 were flown to London last week and will move on to Belgium, Finland and the Netherlands.

Washington is thought to be coming up with a tougher policy towards Mr Karimov, who tolerates no political opposition and no observance of Islam beyond the state’s control.

However, Uzbekistan has realigned itself with Russia and China, which have backed it over the Andijan killings, partly to offset US influence in the region. Russian troops flew into Uzbekistan yesterday for joint anti-terrorist exercises based on a scenario similar to the protests in Andijan.

Last week, the Uzbek Prosecutor-General’s office accused Western reporters of waging an ‘information war’, and state television called Western journalists who covered Andijan ‘hyenas and jackals’.

Uzbek prosecutors accuse the 15 defendants of attacking troops and a government building, killing hostages and forcing civilians to participate in the demonstrations on May 13.

Anvar Nabiyev, First Deputy Prosecutor-General, said that the defendants, three of whom were Kyrgyz, had been trained in Kyrgyzstan and received funding from abroad. He said: ‘This is the first group of extremists. Besides them, another 106 people were arrested as well.’