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Scores of Uzbek Refugees Expelled From Kyrgyzstan

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://cnn.netscape.cnn.com/ns/news/story.jsp?floc=FF-APO-1103&idq=/ff/story/0001%2F20050523%2F0929812413.htm&sc=1103 Scores of Uzbeks Expelled From Kyrgyzstan
    Message 1 of 1 , May 23 7:23 AM
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      http://cnn.netscape.cnn.com/ns/news/story.jsp?floc=FF-APO-1103&idq=/ff/story/0001%2F20050523%2F0929812413.htm&sc=1103

      Scores of Uzbeks Expelled From Kyrgyzstan

      By BAGILA BUKHARBAYEVA

      KARA DARYA, Kyrgyzstan (AP) - Kyrgyzstan has expelled
      scores of Uzbeks who fled the unrest in their country,
      a Kyrgyz official said Monday, but other refugees said
      they'd decided to return home so they could continue
      their struggle against the government.

      ``We have nothing to lose,'' said Khasan Shakirov,
      surrounded by several dozen other Uzbek refugees at
      their tent camp near the border town of Kara Darya.
      ``We only have our lives, and we will sacrifice them
      for freedom.''

      Shakirov and many other refugees in the camp said they
      would march on the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, to push
      for the removal of President Islam Karimov, whom they
      accuse of ordering troops to fire at demonstrators in
      the eastern city of Andijan on May 13.

      Karimov blamed Islamic rebels for the unrest and
      denied that troops had fired on civilians.

      He has rejected opposition and rights activists'
      claims that more than 700 were killed in the violence
      and stonewalled Western calls for an international
      investigation. The government said 169 were killed in
      Andijan.

      About 500 refugees who settled in a tent camp in
      Kyrgyzstan last week wrote a collective letter to U.N.
      Secretary-General Kofi Annan, begging for protection
      amid fears that the Kyrgyz authorities would cave in
      to Uzbek pressure and expel them.

      The Kyrgyz government said Sunday it wasn't going to
      provide political asylum for all of the camp
      residents.

      ``We don't consider them refugees,'' Almambet
      Matubraimov, acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek
      Bakiyev's envoy to southern Kyrgyzstan, told The
      Associated Press. ``We are trying to send them back.''

      Kyrgyz military Col. Abdumajid Abdurakhimov, who is in
      charge of security at the refugee camp, said Monday
      that authorities handed over 85 Uzbeks who had tried
      to cross into Kyrgyzstan since the violence erupted.

      Abdurakhimov said that letting more Uzbeks cross the
      border and stay could trigger a much bigger exodus
      from Uzbekistan than impoverished Kyrgyzstan could
      handle, but acknowledged there were concerns about the
      safety of returnees.

      ``If we had let them all come, their number here (at
      the camp) would have been 10 times higher, 5,000
      instead of 500,'' Abdurakhimov said.

      He said that Uzbek authorities had set up a camp to
      process the returnees and those without criminal
      records would be let go.

      ``Personally, I feel that they treat them very cruelly
      there,'' he said.

      The U.N. refugee agency has strongly urged Kyrgyzstan
      to provide a shelter for all Uzbeks fleeing violence
      and promised assistance.

      ``Our official position is that according to
      conventions signed by Kyrgyzstan, people should be
      given the right to apply for asylum,'' said Vanno
      Noupech, the representative at the camp for the United
      Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. ``We appealed
      to the Kyrgyz government to open the border and give
      these people an opportunity to file for asylum.''

      However, Kyrgyzstan feels strong pressure from its
      neighbor Uzbekistan, which already has admonished
      Kyrgyz officials for letting refugees cross the border
      and allegedly encouraging Islamic extremists.

      On Monday, the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry sent a response
      to a diplomatic protest by Uzbekistan and said it was
      ``taking concrete measures to prevent sources of
      tension,'' denying alleged militants had been allowed
      to cross into the country.

      Kyrgyzstan also said it would ensure border controls
      at Kara-suu, which lies across from the Uzbek town of
      Korasuv - a flashpoint of tension where a farmer
      turned opposition leader proclaimed an Islamic state
      before he was arrested last week.

      The European Union urged Uzbekistan to allow an
      independent international investigation of the
      killings, but it stopped short of threatening to cut
      aid.

      The council of EU foreign ministers ``strongly
      condemns the reported excessive, disproportionate and
      indiscriminate use of force by the Uzbek security
      forces, and calls upon the Uzbek authorities to act
      with restraint in order to avoid further loss of
      life,'' the group said in a statement.

      Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have eyed one another with
      suspicion and, sometimes, open enmity.

      Their borders meet along with Tajikistan's in the
      densely populated Fergana Valley, frontiers imposed by
      Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to divide and conquer
      Central Asia's many ethnic groups.

      In June 1990, hundreds were killed in a spasm of
      fighting between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. With
      memories of that violence still vivid and lacking much
      information about what happened in Andijan, most
      Kyrgyz feel little sympathy for Uzbek refugees.

      In pain over the loss of relatives and feeling
      cornered by the authorities, many refugees said Monday
      they would march home even if it means death.

      ``So much blood was spilled that the dead won't
      forgive us,'' said one refugee, Alisher, who gave only
      his first name, probably out of fear for his
      relatives' safety. ``We will demand that Karimov step
      down. His hands are covered with blood.''

      Shakirov said the refugees hope that their march home
      would encourage other Uzbeks to rise against the
      government. ``It's better to die free than to be a
      refugee,'' he said.

      05/23/05 09:29
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