Uzbekistan to ban some NATO overflights-alliance

From Reuters Alertnet

Uzbekistan has told European members of NATO they will not be able to use its airspace or territory for operations linked to peacekeeping in neighbouring Afghanistan, alliance officials said on Wednesday.

They said they understood the ban would take effect from Jan. 1 and that it was in response to a European Union decision to impose visa bans on 12 top Uzbek officials and an arms embargo on the central Asian state over the deaths of up to 500 people during a demonstration in May.

“NATO itself has not been notified of this but individual European nations have,” a NATO official told a briefing, speaking on a customary basis of anonymity.

A ban would primarily affect Germany, which has been using Uzbekistan for logistical and air support.

“Germany is the country most affected, but alternative arrangements are possible. There will be no diminishment of our capacity to support ISAF,” the official said, referring to the 9,000-strong NATO-led peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

The Uzbek move comes as NATO is seeking to expand its Afghan presence from the north, west and capital Kabul into the more dangerous south.

Germany has supplied some of its 2,000-plus troops serving with ISAF in Afghanistan via the Uzbek air base of Termez close to Afghanistan’s northern border.

Witnesses say about 500 people were killed on May 13 when Uzbek troops fired into a crowd in the eastern town of Andizhan to put down a rebellion. Uzbek authorities put the number at 187 and said they were mostly “foreign-paid terrorists.”

Uzbekistan signed in 1994 a so-called “partnership for peace” agreement to nurture closer ties with NATO and has also signed an accord that allows alliance troops in principle to use its territory.

NATO has taken no action to downgrade the partnership for peace agreement since the violence, although it has cancelled some meetings with Uzbekistan to make the point that it was not business as usual.