U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says Uzbekistan's president Islam Karimov has rejected calls for an international investigation into last week's deadly clashes in his country. Human rights experts are seeking a first-hand account of the circumstances of the violence.
As reports of a massacre of civilians filtered out of the eastern Uzbek town of Andijon, a U.N. human rights expert requested permission to visit the region. Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said U.N. expert on executions Philip Alston was concerned by reports that Uzbek authorities had linked the killings to the fight against terrorism. "Alston said he was gravely concerned about the reports that hundreds of people, including women and children were killed when government troops fired indiscriminately to disperse demonstrations in Andijon," he said.
Spokesman Dujarric said Secretary-General Annan had spoken to Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov Thursday by telephone. He said Mr. Karimov had rejected the secretary-general's request for an international investigation of the Andijon incident. "The secretary-general spoke to President Karimov yesterday and they discussed the issue of the international investigation. The president told him he did not think that the proposed investigation is needed at this time," he said.
Mr. Karimov issued a statement Friday denying he had discussed with Secretary-General Annan the possibility of an independent probe into the Andijon bloodshed.
Authorities in Tashkent have said only a few civilians were among 169 people killed when soldiers crushed what they called a "bandit uprising" in Andijon. Opposition sources put the death toll at more than 500, many of them civilians.
Mr. Karimov's government has come under increasing international pressure following the incident.
The United States, the European Union and several human rights groups are all calling for an international investigation.
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher Friday said Washington had withheld some aid from Uzbekistan last year because of human rights violations, and is considering further cuts. "I think the Uzbek government already knows that there are consequences for the human rights situation, of which this is part. last year, remember, we withheld something like $11 million from the funds that we had available for Uzbekistan because they were not meeting international human rights obligations. This year, there's something like $22 million that could be affected by the legislation, and by how they work on human rights," he said.
Earlier, the head of the U.S. Central Command, General John Abizaid said U.S. forces operating out of an airbase in Uzbekistan are exercising caution and have cut back operations. The base is used to support missions against the Taleban in neighboring Afghanistan.