Uzbeks retake rebel town as death toll reaches 1,000

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The Independent Online

Uzbek government forces overran the last pocket of resistance as they retook the eastern town of Korasuv in an overnight raid, imprisoning the leaders who led an uprising on Saturday.

Uzbek government forces overran the last pocket of resistance as they retook the eastern town of Korasuv in an overnight raid, imprisoning the leaders who led an uprising on Saturday.

The rebels' seizure of Korasuv appeared to have signalled a new stage in unrest that erupted a week ago in the Ferghana Valley, sparking a crackdown by security forces that the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights said yesterday had killed up to 1,000 unarmed civilians.

But residents said yesterday that about 200 government soldiers had moved in overnight, occupying the town on the Kyrgyzstan border, which is home to about 25,000 people. There was little sign of the violence seenduring the weekend as frustration boiled over at the arbitrary closure of the border which severed trade ties with the Kyrgz town across the river.

The mayor, Dilmurat Shermatov, who was beaten by demonstrators during the protests, was back on the streets barking orders and warning people not to gather in groups.

The clearest evidence of the unrest is at the police station and the tax offices, both burnt-out shells.

The customs station on the derelict concrete bridge was also gutted after it became the target of fury at the imposition of 60 per cent levies on imported goods.

Hakyar Muzarov, a teenager, said it had all ended rather limply despite warnings that the rebels were prepared to fight to the death. "We woke up this morning and saw that the soldiers had come back to town. There wasn't any fighting. Our administration did not have our own soldiers with weapons."

However, people were clearly dismayed at the restoration of the old order. "The border police were corrupt and asked for a bribe every time someone wanted to cross the bridge," complained Mr Muzarov.

A man, who only wanted to give his name as Saibjahon, said: "Nearly every family in Korasuv has relatives in the Kyrgyz part of Korasuv. Also the goods in the big market on the other side of the border are 50 per cent cheaper." Since the bridges were closed, more than 20 people have drowned in the river trying to cross by other means.

The man accused of leading the uprising, Bakhtior Rakhimov, was hauled out of his house and beaten and arrested. He was accused of attempting to set up an Islamic state.

Talib Yakubov, the chairman of the Uzbek organisation, said he expected another uprising and warned that it could be bloody. He called on the West to act more firmly against the Uzbek regime.

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