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Red Cross Not Granted Access to Uzbekistan Protest Victims

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it still has not been granted access to people injured or arrested during violent demonstrations in Andijan, Uzbekistan. The Swiss humanitarian agency says it also has not been able to contact the regional authorities in Andijan.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has made repeated efforts to gain access to those injured and arrested since the violent protests erupted three weeks ago. But, so far, it says, it has had no response to its requests.

ICRC spokesman, Vincent Lusser, says three weeks after these violent events occurred, many people still do not know whether their missing relatives were dead, wounded, arrested or had fled to other parts of the country.

He says the Red Cross wants to visit the injured in hospital to monitor their condition, to see whether they are receiving proper medical treatment and to put them in touch with their families.

He says it is particularly important that Red Cross delegates be allowed to see and speak to people who have been arrested. He says visits to detainees can help protect them from potential abuse.

"Whoever the people are who are, for instance, arrested, whether they are guilty or not, that is not the issue," said Mr. Lusser. "Certainly any state has a right to arrest those who broke the law. The aim of the Red Cross would be not to look at the legitimacy of this. It would be to look at the conditions under which people are being held, how they are being treated. To monitor all that and to be sure that they have links with their families."

Mr. Lusser says the situation in Andijan remains tense. He says people there are reluctant to speak with foreigners. This makes it difficult to get a clear picture of what is going on. He says there still are people waiting outside the local authorities asking for information about their relatives.

Hundreds of people are believed to have been killed by Uzbek security forces during a prison break and failed uprising in the city of Andijan last month. The New York-based Human Rights Watch accuses the Uzbek government of a massacre.

The government denies these charges. It says the revolt was led by international terrorist groups that want to create an Islamic state. Human Rights groups say at least 500 unarmed civilians were killed. The government says its troops killed 170 Islamic extremists.

Vincent Lusser says the Red Cross does not know how many people have been killed or wounded since it has not been given access to detention facilities, the hospitals or morgue.

"Now, the official numbers which are around 170 dead already point to a very worrying set of circumstances because these were people who were almost killed in perhaps one or two days," he said. "So, it is quite a high number and is a very serious number for a relatively small city."

Mr. Lusser says the Red Cross does not want to conduct an investigation into the events. He says the role of the organization is to protect those who have been arrested and injured and to address their humanitarian needs.