Saturday, June 11, 2005

Uzbekistan - Under the Radar

How did Uzbekistan get away with shooting hundreds of civilians? Uzbekistan’s status as a U.S. ally in the “war on terror” appeared to be in jeopardy when reports that Uzbek sodliers massacred hundreds of unarmed protesters emerged just over three weeks ago. But since then, major news outlets from the Guardian to the Washington Post have repeated government claims that an Islamist uprising provoked the government’s use of extreme violence. Not everyone is buying that theory.

According to Acacia Shields of Human Rights Watch, Uzbek security forces regularly use torture to elicit false confessions tying dissidents to a supposed Islamic revolutionary movement to take over Uzbekistan. She thinks it “unlikely” that the protestors killed in Andijan were mobilizing for a religious cause at all. Shields told GNN that “economics was one of the main motivators” for the tragic march.

Ignoring evidence compiled by Human Rights Watch, officials in Washington, Moscow and Beijing have been eager to dish out shaky theories about Taliban, Chechen or Uighur involvement in the so-called ‘uprising’ at Andijan, to support the empty justifications that dictator Islam Karimov offers for the slaughter of Uzbek civilians.

Between 2,000 and 10,000 people rallied in the city of Andijan on May 13 to protest a scandalous trial of 23 prominent businessmen, who stood spuriously accused of opposition to Uzbekistan’s totalitarian government. Elite police and troops, including units trained in the U.S., responded to the crisis – opening fire on the crowd. Officially, 173 civilians were gunned down that day. Independent sources (confirmed by at least one army source) claim 500 or more died in the indiscriminate shooting. “Once the crowd had dispersed, eyewitnesses say the security forces went around finishing off the injured as they lay on the ground.” The city was then sealed off by tanks, and security forces are “making night raids on the houses of anyone who might have been among the crowd, or other witnesses,” the BBC reports.

Uzbekistan’s is playing both sides in a modern version of the Great Game. Just after the Andijan killings, the Uzbek leader Karimov visited China, where he was welcomed with unconditional support for his crackdown on dissidents. Security ties were reaffirmed with talk about the cultural affinities between China’s separatist Uighur rebels in the Xinjiang province bordering Uzbekistan and the Muslim Uzbeks that are supposed to be trying to forge a Central Asian Islamic Republic. A large package of trade agreements was signed during the visit, including a $600 million oil deal.

At the June 30 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (S.C.O.) in Tashkent, Moscow firmed up a strategic partnership agreement with the Karimov regime that includes joint military exercises, and Beijing granted Tashkent a $1.5 billion aid package—the largest that it has ever disbursed to a country. The S.C.O., which also includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, is an effort by Moscow and Beijing to counter Washington’s influence in Central Asia, and to build an alliance that creates a “transcontinental bridge” between the European Union and Southeast Asia, excluding U.S. influence.


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