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US Presses Uzbekistan on Andijan Probe

The United States said Wednesday it still seeks an international investigation of the lethal violence last May in the Uzbek city of Andijan. The fall-out from the Andijan upheaval has badly strained U.S.-Uzbek relations.

The United States has renewed its call for an international inquiry into the Andijan events, following an Uzbek announcement that a trial in the case will open in three weeks.

Human rights activists say as many as 750 people were killed in the eastern Uzbek city May 13, when troops fired on unarmed civilians demonstrating against political and religious repression by the government.

Uzbek officials say fewer than 200 people died, many of them members of the security forces, in unrest triggered by attacks by Islamic militants.

The United States and the European Union, among others, have been pressing for an international inquiry into the violence. But Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who has resisted the demands, said Wednesday on state radio that the first trial of participants in the violence will begin September 20. Mr. Karimov did not say how many people would face charges but said the whole truth of the Andijan events would be exposed by the trial.

The U.S. response to the announcement came from State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack, who said there has been no change in the U.S. insistence on an international investigation, and Uzbek political reform.

"We've been very clear that the Uzbek government needs to let in an international team, needs to be fully transparent in investigating and allowing an international investigation of what happened in Andijan," said Mr. McCormack. "Further, the Secretary [of State Rice] has talked about the need for reform in Uzbekistan. Very basically, the Uzbekistan government needs to trust its people."

Mr. Karimov, a former Communist party official, has ruled the Central Asian republic with an authoritarian hand since the break-up of the Soviet Union.

The United States has long been critical of the Uzbek government's human rights record. But the two countries forged close anti-terrorism cooperation after the September 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington, and Uzbekistan gave the United States access to a key airbase for military operations in Afghanistan.

The relationship began to fray amid U.S. and other foreign criticism of Mr. Karimov following the Andijan upheaval.

Uzbek authorities were further angered in July by U.S. support for a United Nations airlift to Europe of several hundred Uzbeks who had fled Andijan into Kyrgyzstan after the events in May.

Uzbekistan had alleged that instigators of the Andijan violence were among those given refuge by its eastern neighbor.

A month ago, Uzbekistan informed the Bush administration it was invoking a bilateral agreement and giving U.S. forces 180-days to vacate the Karshi-Khanabad airbase.

The United States meanwhile continues to withhold $22 million in U.S. aid earmarked for Uzbekistan because of human rights concerns.

Spokesman McCormack said the administration has been very clear in its call for changes in Uzbekistan allowing more political and economic freedom and respect for human rights. He brushed aside a charge by Mr. Karimov that foreign governments were waging an information war against his country following the events of last May.