Bullets 'fell like rain' during Uzbek massacre

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow
08 June 2005


The United States has come under fresh international
pressure to close its military base in Uzbekistan and
drop the country's President as a strategic ally after
Human Rights Watch released a damning report into the
recent Andijan massacre.

The New-York based human rights organisation said its
investigation into the events of 13 May left it in no
doubt that the Uzbek government had systematically
slaughtered hundreds of its own citizens in a
"massacre" and then tried to cover up the atrocities.
The evidence it had uncovered was so compelling and
the Uzbek government's duplicity, guilt and
intransigence so obvious, it added, that Washington
was morally obliged to shut its air base in the south
of the country.

"Camp Stronghold Freedom", or K2, an air base near the
southern town of Khanabad, was originally set up to
supply the US invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan,
and continues to play a role in Washington's "war
against terror". Human Rights Watch said Washington
was in negotiations that would allow it to keep a base
there permanently. It called upon the US to insist
upon an independent international investigation,
something the government of Islam Karimov has
repeatedly rejected, and to sever military and
financial ties in the event of continued refusal.

"Yes, we would be giving up an asset in Uzbekistan,"
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights
Watch, said in Moscow. "But if we don't act when the
government slaughters hundreds of its own civilians,
when are we going to act?"

Mr Roth said the base negotiations should be
suspended. A deal would lead to "a massive influx of
revenue" and new US-funded infrastructure. In the
light of his organisation's report, entitled Bullets
were Falling Like Rain, he said such aid would be
"absolutely inappropriate".

Mr Karimov should be dumped as an ally, he added. "I
hope that the Bush administration realises that
Karimov is no longer an asset but has turned into a
deep liability."

Mr Roth accused the EU of being reluctant to take
concrete steps to express its displeasure. Brussels
has a Partnership and Co-operation Agreement with
Tashkent, under which Uzbekistan receives about 16m.

"The EU has been reluctant to suspend it, saying it
will lose its leverage," said Mr Roth. But, he argued,
there was in fact no better time to really make that
leverage count than now.

Mr Roth said his organisation's report was based on
first-hand testimony from 50 victims and eyewitnesses.
He said there was no other word to describe what
happened on 13 May than a massacre, that the Uzbek
government's explanation of what happened was
"completely false", and that government troops had
"systematically mown down" civilians. "This was a
massacre pure and simple. There was no justification

He described what then followed as a cover-up.
Witnesses were intimidated, bodies swiftly hidden,
bullet holes plastered, and blood washed away.

Central Asia is of strategic importance to several
countries, he conceded, but that did not mean any
government should turn a blind eye to the Andijan
massacre. "China, Russia and the United States are all
vying for influence in central Asia, but I hope that
none of those governments are willing to buy that
influence with the death of hundreds of innocent

Human Rights Watch said there was insufficient access
and information to provide an exact death toll, but
eyewitness accounts suggested a number approaching
500. The Uzbek authorities say 173 were killed. 


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