UN demands inquiry on Uzbek deaths

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The Independent Online

Uzbek special forces allowed foreign diplomats to tour the battered town of Andijan, but refused to take them to the site where up to 500 people, including women and children, are said to have been killed.

Uzbek special forces allowed foreign diplomats to tour the battered town of Andijan, but refused to take them to the site where up to 500 people, including women and children, are said to have been killed.

The two-hour visit yesterday was followed by international calls for an independent investigation into the killings, with diplomats saying that many questions - such as casualty numbers - remained unanswered.

The United States has called on Uzbekistan, an ally in Washington's war on terror, to be open about events in Andijan, while the United Nations and the European Union called for an independent inquiry. Louise Arbour, the UN high commissioner for Human Rights, said she was "deeply concerned".

The government says 169 people were killed in the riots and protests last Thursday, nearly all of whom were "bandits" who had killed civilians and security officials during and after staging a jailbreak.

An opposition party, the Free Peasants, and a human rights advocate, Saidjahon Zaynabitdinov, put the death toll at about 500 people. Activists have compiled a list of 745 dead in Andijan and the town of Pakhtabad.

The Uzbek Interior Minister, Zakirdzhon Almatov, who conducted the tour, claimed that up to 100 "bandits" had been caught and were being interrogated.

The unrest, which President Islam Karimov blamed on Islamic extremists, was sparked by a trial of 23 businessmen, who were sprung from jail. Opposition politicians in the capital, Tashkent, warned Mr Karimov that further violence was inevitable if calls for political reform were ignored. "Our people are beginning to stand up for themselves," said Nadira Khidoyatova, head of the opposition Sunshine Alliance. "They are tired of poverty and injustice - and they will sweep everything on their way, and there will be even more bloodshed."

Government forces appear to be pursuing and arresting activists and witnesses to the massacre.

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