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23rd Oct 2020

Uzbek massacre hangs over Barroso-Karimov meeting

  • An OSCE researcher collects testimonies from Andijan survivors (Photo: OSCE)

A memorandum on energy is to dominate a meeting in Brussels between European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Uzbek chief Islam Karimov, responsible for massacring 1,500 of his own people just six years ago.

An EU official preparing the event, which is to take place on Monday (24 January), told EUobserver that Brussels and Tashkent are finalising the wording of the memo and hope to sign it on the day of the meeting.

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"At this stage, it's basically a political declaration saying that we have shared interests in the energy sector and in deepening our ties both as regards supplies and diversification of routes," he added. "At a later stage, it will possibly be fleshed out with projects."

Mr Karimov's soldiers fired the first shots into a crowd of protesters in the central square in Andijan, in eastern Uzbekistan, at 7am local time on 12 May 2005, according to an OSCE report: "An armoured personnel vehicle, BTR, came from Cholpon Street/Navoi Prospect. It did not stop and security forces started shooting with automatic guns directly into the crowd. Then it drove away. The crowd kneeled/crouched to avoid the gunfire. Some were reportedly killed and wounded at this time."

The shooting continued sporadically for the rest of the day and climaxed in the evening, as detailed in a parallel study by Human Rights Watch: "government troops blocked off the square and, without warning, opened fire, killing and wounding unarmed civilians. People fled the square in several groups, the first group using as a human shield numerous hostages seized earlier in the day. As they tried to escape, hundreds of people were shot by snipers or mowed down by troops firing from APCs [armoured personnel carriers]."

Mr Karimov has refused EU demands for an international enquiry into the killings.

NGOs say that authorities continue to hold family members and survivors in prison. People in Uzbekistan are still tortured and killed for their political views. Meanwhile, the Karimov family, as detailed in a set of recently leaked US cables, is creaming in money from bribes and from business deals with the Uzbek mafia.

The EU official involved in the Barroso meeting, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the Union has opted for a policy of "constructive engagement" with Tashkent and that Mr Barroso will voice concerns about human rights, political prisoners, NGO and media freedoms.

Asked by this website if Mr Barroso will seek details on what happened in Andijan, he said he "could not confirm this."

Asked how may people were killed in the massacre, he said: "I don't have the exact figure with me."

Asked if it is odd that the EU has voiced solidarity with the pro-democracy uprising in Tunisia while appearing to endorse the Uzbek regime, he said: "I absolutely don't agree with that. We do support democratisation in Uzbekistan."

For their part, EU-based reporters will not be able to put any questions to Mr Karimov because the commission has not scheduled a press event, as is customary with top-level visits.

Asked if the omission is designed to avoid potential embarrassment for Mr Barroso's guest, the EU official said: "No. It's simply a calendar issue. This is just the way it is organised. He's also meeting with Belgian representatives the same day and with the Nato secretary general."

The Barroso-Karimov agenda will also cover Uzbekistan's logistical support for Nato troops in Afghanistan and economic modernisation, the official added.

Uzbekistan's embassy to the EU declined to comment on the planned meeting, saying that President Karimov has not yet "received the official papers" from the EU side.

An Uzbek diplomat previously briefed EUobserver that Tashkent wants EU help to stop neighbouring Tajikistan from completing the Rogun Dam on the Vakhsh River. He said the dam has the potential to cause a large-scale humanitarian disaster if it ever burst, flooding vast swathes of land in Uzbekistan and pushing refugees to the EU.

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