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US General: Military Operations in Uzbekistan Scaled Back

The head of the U.S. Central Command, General John Abizaid, says the United States has scaled back its military operations in Uzbekistan since last week's violence in the Central Asian country. Two leading human rights organizations say Uzbek security forces may have killed as many as 1,000 civilians in the eastern city of Andijan.

Also Thursday, Uzbek troops regained control of the eastern border town of Korasuv and arrested local rebel leaders. And in Washington the United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing on the crisis in Uzbekistan

The Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan claim that up to 1,000 unarmed civilians were killed in Andijan last week and 2,000 others were injured.

The Uzbek government has denied its troops opened fire on innocent civilians. Uzbek President Islam Karimov maintains that 169 people were killed in clashes between Uzbek authorities and militants.

However, Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan dispute this. Mahmood, who was wounded in the Andijan crackdown said, "The crowds decided to form in a tight group, women in the middle, and the men protecting them on the outside. The soldiers then started shooting us like dogs."

Meanwhile, Uzbek troops retook control of the eastern town of Korasuv where rebels had announced they would build a strict Islamic state. The group's leaders were arrested. No bloodshed was reported. Some residents said there was sporadic firing.

In Washington, one Uzbek expert said at a Helsinki Commission briefing on Uzbekistan that unlike recent revolutions in Georgia or Ukraine there may not be a smooth transition of power in Uzbekistan. Martha Olcott is a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace. She said, "More likely, is the scenario where the government simply crumbles, in the face of widening popular opposition, which can no longer be contained through the use or threat of force."

Uzbekistan is a country of strategic interest to the U.S. and an ally on the war on terror.

Michael Cromartie, the head of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, says it is important that the U.S. speak with a unified voice to the Uzbek government, something it hasn't always done. "Last year the State Department refused to provide funding for the Uzbek government, due to its human rights violations. Yet, one month later the Defense Department granted funds to the Uzbek government."

The United States, the U.N. and Britain have all called for an independent international investigation into the deadly events in Andijan. But, Uzbekistan’s President Karimov says what happened is an internal affair.