Thursday, May 19, 2005

One Mans Terrorist...

Uzbekistan. It's been in the news recently. Most of us couldn't point it out on a map. Some people will only have heard of it due to the efforts of Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to the country. Much of the media has adopted a rather low key approach to the reporting of the most recent incident, as Tim points out here.

The US State Department says this of Uzbekistan:
Uzbekistan is not a democracy and does not have a free press. Several prominent opponents of the government have fled, and others have been arrested. The government severely represses those it suspects of Islamic extremism, particularly those it suspects of membership in the banned Party of Islamic Liberation (Hizb ut-Tahrir). Some 5,300 to 5,800 suspected extremists are incarcerated. This represents a decline from previous years, as hundreds are amnestied and fewer arrested. Prison conditions remain very poor, particularly for those convicted of extremist activities, and a number of such prisoners are believed to have died over the past several years from prison disease and abuse. The police force and the intelligence service use torture as a routine investigation technique.
It is not high on the list of top tourist destinations. The apparent killing of hundreds of civilians will have done nothing to improve the international reputation of the country. The BBC website has accumulated media and eyewitness accounts of the events in Andijan on 13th May:
The initial assault by security forces begins with a convoy of armoured vehicles opening fire on the crowd. Many people flee…
An armoured car fires into the crowd outside the school…Reports later emerge that injured people were summarily executed, and that many bodies, especially of women and children, were taken away and concealed by the authorities, says Galima Bukharbaeva. There is evidence to suggest government security forces carried out further killings once the mass shooting was over...
The BBCreports that our own Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has called for a full independent inquiry into the incident, as has the UN and the EU. Mr Straw called for the Ukbek government to "develop a much more open and pluralistic society in Uzbekistan".

Earlier today (Wednesday 18th May), the current British Ambassador, David Moran, was taken on a tour of the area by Uzbek government officials. He said:
I was a bit surprised to find myself at the airport at 1230 and had hoped to have some time to wander around by myself, but they did say I was welcome to come back. We remain concerned at the credible reports we received since Friday of casualties and we're keen to have the fullest possible picture.
His visit was tightly controlled by the Uzbek authorities.

In the Whitehouse the President’s Press Secretary, Scott McClellan, was asked about the situation in Uzbekistan:
Q. Scott, the President of Uzbekistan has now admitted that his government killed upwards of 170 of its citizens, some anti-government protestors, some escaped prisoners, apparently. Opposition groups say the figure could have been far, far higher. What's the President's view of this situation?

Mr. McClellan: Actually, we spoke about it just the other day. The State Department addressed this very matter and expressed our concerns about it. Obviously, we have continued to urge restraint by all and for all to work for calm in Uzbekistan. We were deeply disturbed by the reports that authorities had fired on demonstrators last Friday, and we expressed our condemnation about the indiscriminate use of force against unarmed civilians. And we certainly deeply regret any loss of life. So we've expressed that previously.

But we've also called on people to reject those who would try to incite violence, as well. And we talked about that, too. We've urged the government, as well, to allow humanitarian organizations, like the International Committee for the Red Cross, to have access to the region so that they can gather facts and help take care of people that need help.

Q. That's very clear. I wonder if I can contrast it with something, though. In 2002, the President said of another leader who had arrested 75 people and had them sentenced: "The dictator has responded with defiance and contempt and a new round of brutal oppression that has outraged the world's conscience." The President was speaking of Fidel Castro, who imprisoned these dissidents, didn't kill any of them, and I wonder why the double standard.

Mr. McClellan: I don't know that I would look at it that way. Obviously, Terry, there are different circumstances around the world. You have to deal with those different circumstances. And so I wouldn't look at it that way at all. But we have long spoken about our concerns when it comes to the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, and we've laid out the facts as we know them about the human rights situation in Uzbekistan. We would like to see a more open and responsive government. But the way to achieve that is not through violence; it's through peaceful means. And that's what we always emphasize.

Q. This is a leader who has been in power since before the fall of the Soviet Union. He's clearly a dictator by any definition of that word. And I wonder if you could respond to the concerns that many people have that this administration is going easy on him because he is necessary in the war on terrorism, in part because the United States has rendered certain detainees into his country and --

Mr. McClellan: I think the facts speak differently. The facts are very clear in terms of we speak out about the concerns that we have, we speak out when we are disturbed by events that take place. And that's what we have done in this instance, as well. And I just did.
Uzbekistan is a US ally in the “war” on terror. There is a large US military base in the country.
The US State Department official figures show that $10.7 million was given to the Uzbek authorities for Security and Law Enforcement in 2004, out of a total aid package of $50.6 million in that year.

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