Uzbekistan rejects UN inquiry into killing of civilians

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The Independent Online

The United Nations says it has been thwarted in its efforts to launch an international investigation into the recent violence in Uzbekistan, the most deadly since the country's declaration of independence in 1991.

The United Nations says it has been thwarted in its efforts to launch an international investigation into the recent violence in Uzbekistan, the most deadly since the country's declaration of independence in 1991.

The request to investigate the disturbances was turned down by President Islam Karimov. Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, said: "[Karimov] said he had the situation under control and was taking every measure to bring those responsible to account and didn't need an international team to establish the facts."

Violence erupted on Friday last week when security forces shot at protesters who had stormed a prison in the eastern city of Andijan, releasing prisoners and taking over government buildings. The opposition has said 700 people were killed. The government put the toll at 169. The unrest prompted calls from the US State Department last week for political reforms.

UN officials said the situation was discussed on Thursday in a telephone call between Mr Annan and Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State. Mr Annan also met the acting US ambassador to the UN, Anne Patterson.

The call for an international inquiry into the deaths of the civilians was made by Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Philip Alston, the UN's special investigator on illegal and arbitrary executions, also called on the Uzbek authorities to allow him to visit the country. He said he was "gravely concerned about reports that hundreds of people, including women and children, were killed on May 13 when government troops fired indiscriminately to disperse a demonstration".

The Uzbek government denies that police fired on civilians and has blamed the unrest on Islamic militants.

Ms Arbour conceded last night that outside scrutiny was now unlikely. "I think ... the response is not very promising," she said.

Continuing political confusion in Uzbekistan has also forced the Pentagon to scale back its use of an air base in the country for its operations in neighbouring Afghanistan. "We have decided to make sure that we're cautious about how we're operating," said General John Abizaid, head of US Central Command.

The Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan issued a joint statement saying that security forces may have killed 1,000 civilians and injured 2,000. Human rights groups have complained for years that Mr Karimov has used claims of religious extremism as a pretext to stamp out political dissent.

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