Uzbekistan dismisses call for probe into killings

The United States, Nato and the European Union have joined the United Nations in pressing for an international probe into the alleged killing of hundreds during an authoritarian crackdown in Uzbekistan.

The Uzbek leader has staunchly resisted calls to end the crackdown on the opposition in the city of Andijan, prompting the US State Department on Friday to express concern over the situation.

”We’re coordinating with the international community who have all called for a credible and transparent assessment or inquiry into what happened in Andijan and an international element to the participation in that,” State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher said.

US diplomats have been in touch with officials from Uzbekistan, as well as the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe along with European governments, Boucher said.

A week after the spasm of violence, Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also pressed for a probe, saying he was ”disappointed” Uzbek President Islam Karimov had rejected a call by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan for an investigation.

The EU’s foreign ministers on Monday are expected to approve a resolution calling for an inquiry and condemning Uzbek authorities for disproportionate use of force, said Cristina Gallach, spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Witnesses and rights activists have reported continuing arrests in Andijan. And a senior Uzbek police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said on Friday that police in the capital, Tashkent, had arrested several people on suspicion of involvement in the Andijan riots.

Karimov has blamed Islamic militants for the unrest that began on May 13 in Andijan and denies that his troops fired on unarmed civilians there. He dismisses claims of rights activists who put the death toll at more than 700.

On Friday, a UN human rights expert said he asked Uzbekistan to allow him to visit the country to assess the situation, but received no immediate reply.

Philip Alston, UN special investigator on illegal and arbitrary executions, said in a statement that 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 in Andijan”.

Russia, meanwhile, has signalled it does not intend to pressure Karimov, who has led Uzbekistan since it became independent.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov has described the events as an ”internal matter”. And Nikolai Patrushev, head of the KGB’s main successor, said on Friday that Russia believes terrorists from Afghanistan were involved in the uprising, the Interfax news agency reported.

Annan said on Thursday that Karimov opposed an international investigation into the worst bloodshed since the country’s independence. — Sapa-AP

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