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Washington Ponders UN Action on Uzbekistan

The Bush administration said Thursday it may seek action at the United Nations to prod Uzbekistan's government into heeding calls for an international investigation of last month's violence in city of Andijon. Hundreds of people are believed to have been killed by security forces in the May 13 events, which the group Human Rights Watch has labeled a massacre.

The United States has been calling for an international investigation of the Andijon killings, and amid continued resistance to the idea by Uzbek authorities, U.S. officials say they may take the matter to the United Nations.

The violence has been a source of political discomfort for the Bush administration, which has forged close anti-terrorism ties with the Uzbek government and used a key air base there to support U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

This week a bipartisan group of six U.S. Senators, in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, urged the administration to reconsider its relationship with the Uzbek government of President Islam Karimov because of the Andijon events.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack acknowledged receipt of the letter and said the department basically shares the concerns of the Senators.

He said the United States wants a credible, transparent and independent investigation of what happened last month and stands ready to take part in it, along with Uzbek authorities and other international partners. He said U.S. diplomacy in pursuit of that aim now includes soundings at the United Nations.

"We are considering all of our diplomatic options, including at the U.N. We are pleased that representatives of the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights will be returning to the refugee camp in Kyrgystan to assess the situation there," he noted.  "And in the meantime, we're talking to member states of various international organizations to try to generate support for an international investigation. We've been calling for this for some time."

Mr. McCormack said the United States spurned an invitation to be party to an investigation by the Uzbek parliament because it did not see such a probe as a substitute for an international inquiry.

The spokesman also said U.S. officials are concerned Uzbek authorities may be trying to silence human rights activists and journalists looking into the Andijon events through arrests and intimidation.

A senior State Department official who spoke to reporters on terms of anonymity would not say if the administration might seek U.N. Security Council action on Uzbekistan, but said no options are being precluded.

He said the administration was putting no deadline on its call for an international investigation but also said the effort to get one is not open-ended.

Human Rights Watch, in its report earlier this week, said considerably more people were killed in Andijon than the 173 acknowledged by the Uzbek government.

It said that based on eyewitness accounts, Uzbek troops used rifle and machine gun fire to crush a mass protest that grew out of a brief revolt by armed anti-government elements who seized a prison and released the inmates.

According to the New York Times, the U.S. Senators - four Republicans and two Democrats - cautioned the administration against entering into a long-term base agreement with an Uzbek government, that in their words, brutally represses its people.

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