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Andijan Survivors Won’t Return Until Karimov Deposed

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Uzbek refugees now living in camps on the Kyrgyz side of the border fear they will be killed if they’re forced to go back to their homes. By Jalil Saparov and Sultan Kanazarov in Suzak, Jalalabad (RCA No. 379, 18-May-05)

Hundreds of Uzbeks who fled the bloody government crackdown in Andijan say that they cannot return until President Islam Karimov has been removed from office.

This comes as Kyrgyz officials say they cannot rule out the possibility of the refugees being sent back to Uzbekistan. The Uzbek survivors say they would face almost certain death.

When IWPR visited a refugee camp in the Suzak area of Jalalabad, men were boiling tea in enormous samovars for the tired, unshaven and unwashed residents.

The refugees say that around 1,500 people fled Andijan to escape the Uzbek government’s crackdown – but that only a third of them made it across the border to safety. When asked what happened to the others, the eyes of one elderly man filled with tears. “We don’t know,” he said.

The camp residents angrily deny being involved in religious extremism, which Uzbek president Islam Karimov has used as his justification for the attack on protesters in the centre of Andijan, which reportedly left hundreds dead.

Sitting outside a crowded tent, Tavalak Khojaev told IWPR, "Karimov calls all of us - people who are far from politics and impoverished as a result of his rule - extremists and terrorists.

“Can these old people, these women with babies in their arms, these teenagers, be called extremists? They do not even know what the word means.

“After the president's comments we understood that there is no road home for us. Death and torture awaits us in Uzbekistan.”

Tavakal and his fellow Uzbeks are now calling on the international community to grant them official refugee status, so that they can remain in Kyrgyzstan for some time.

"We ask the Kyrgyz authorities to allow us to stay in Kyrgyzstan until Karimov leaves his post. Each of us is living in unimaginable fear of the Uzbek authorities," said Tavakal.

The camp is situated in a valley out of sight of the frontier, so that Uzbek border guards cannot open fire on it.

One Andijan resident, who gave his name as Kakhromon, said that the refugees had been come under attack from Uzbek border guards just as they were trying to cross the frontier.

“We surrounded the children and women as we did not want them to suffer, but the guards opened fire and the bullets hit us men, but they did not fall down or cry out - we kept moving under heavy fire.

“When we crossed over, all the injured people passed out immediately. They had only kept moving by the thought of falling and dying under the boots of the Uzbek border guards."

Noila, a young woman, said that all the refugees want to return home to their families, parents and children – but agreed that this could not happen until the Uzbek president was gone.

"If the president resigns or is overthrown, then can we return to our sacred land. But if not, then we are prepared to die here,” she said. “That is why I ask everyone to help the people of Uzbekistan to be liberated from the tyranny of Karimov.”

One elderly woman, who gave her name as Mukhabat, said Karimov would have to be forced from office. “A person who gave the command to shoot at women, the elderly and children will never give up power peacefully.

“If the international community cannot persuade Karimov to step down, then we implore the Kyrgyzstan government - do not send us back to hell, but let us stay here at least temporarily. Death awaits us in Uzbekistan."

Camp residents said that they were grateful to the Kyrgyz for their hospitality but said conditions were difficult.

"The Kyrgyz are doing everything that is in their power,” said one woman. “They have provided tents, food and clean water, but this is still not enough for children and old people."

Aitmamat Nazarov, deputy mayor of the Suzak region, told IWPR that the Uzbek refugees have been provided with tents and all essential items, while international organisations have begun to provide food and sanitary items. But he said that more needed to be done.

"We just don't have enough tents - there are more than 50 people in each one, which is far too much. We have already appealed to international organisations for help," he said.

Jalil Saparov is an IWPR contributor in Jalalabad. Sultan Kanazarov is a correspondent for the Kyrgyz service of RFE/RL

Created by anita
Last modified 2005-06-11 11:48 PM

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