Uzbek troops enter border town after unrest
Thu May 19, 2005 8:55 AM ET
By Dmitry Solovyov
QORASUV, Uzbekistan (Reuters) - Uzbek forces retook
control of the eastern border town of Qorasuv early on
Thursday after days of unrest in the aftermath of
bloody clashes in nearby Andizhan.
Interior ministry troops rolled into the town on the
border with Kyrgyzstan at 4 a.m. and, encountering
little if any resistance, quickly established control
over bridges and other key points, local people said.
A dozen soldiers in full combat gear on Thursday
lounged near the bridge spanning the small river that
forms part of the border with Kyrgyzstan, drinking
soup and sipping tea.
There were few soldiers elsewhere in the town and no
signs of violence.
But the atmosphere was tense and the few people out on
the streets were reluctant to speak. "We are scared to
be punished. Even walls have ears," one of them told
The small town with a population of about 25,000 has
seethed with unrest since last Saturday when about 200
or so people rebelled and destroyed a local police
The unrest came a day after bloodshed in Andizhan
when, witnesses say, troops opened fire on rebels and
protesters, killing hundreds.
The violence in the tightly-controlled Central Asian
state has led to expressions of concern from the West
and the United States, which regards the mainly-Muslim
country as an ally in the war on terrorism.
The Uzbek government says 169 people were killed in
the May 13 Andizhan violence, most of them "bandits"
who themselves had killed civilians and security
But witnesses said some 500 people, including women
and children, were killed when security forces opened
fire on rebels and protesters.
NOT POLITICS OR ISLAM
The trouble in Andizhan was sparked by a trial of 23
businessmen and blamed by President Islam Karimov on
But locals said neither politics nor Islam had
anything to do with the Qorasuv unrest. They said many
people had taken advantage of events in Andizhan to
vent their anger over the closure of bridges with
Kyrgyzstan that had divided families for years.
One 30-year-old who identified himself as Adaham
discounted foreign news reports of a rebellion led by
an Islamic leader, Bakhtiyor Rakhimov, who said he
intended to build an Islamic state.
"Rakhimov has no strong influence. Residents simply
wanted good for the people who have not been able to
see their relatives for six years," he said.
The BBC earlier reported that Rakhimov was arrested by
the troops who swept into the town on Thursday.
Prosecutor General's office in Uzbek capital Tashkent
could not immediately confirm his arrest.
Soldiers refused to discuss their operation and waved
away press photographers. Earlier, witnesses on the
Kyrgyz side of the border said a military helicopter
hovered over the town in the morning. One trader who
crossed from Uzbekistan into Kyrgyzstan said troops
had been hunting down people connected to unrest.
Though the border was open for routine trade and
visits by local families on Thursday, Uzbek police
were questioning people crossing in from Kyrgyzstan.
In Tashkent, a state security spokesman said: "Even if
there are any arrests (in Qorasuv) they are being
carried out only within the framework of criminal
"The situation there is stable. Border and customs
services are functioning normally," Alimzhon Turakulov
Washington has urged President Islam Karimov to be
open about events in Andizhan, while the United
Nations and the European Union have called for an
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has called on
Karimov to agree to an independent international
inquiry. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
said on Thursday that the U.S.-led alliance was "very
worried" about the bloodshed and would like to see
free access to the region. (Additional reporting by