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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 February 2008, 15:46 GMT
Uzbek forces 'killed journalist'
By Natalia Antelava
Central Asia correspondent

Alisher Saipov
Mr Saipov was one of Kyrgyzstan's most prominent journalists
The security services of Uzbekistan were behind the murder last October of an independent ethnic Uzbek journalist in Kyrgyzstan, a report suggests.

Alisher Saipov, 26, was shot outside his office close to the Uzbek border.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) investigated his journalistic activities and his close links to the Uzbek opposition in exile.

The group said there were "strong indications" that the Uzbek security services murdered Mr Saipov.

It has been three months since Mr Saipov, one of Kyrgyzstan's most prominent journalists, was shot in the head outside his office in the Kyrgyz city of Osh.

Having initially said that the secret services of a foreign country may have been behind the murder, Kyrgyz detectives abandoned the Uzbek link and instead focused their investigation on what they called Mr Saipov's dubious dealings with Islamic radicals.

But the journalist's friends, and now the ICG, say that he did not belong to any such groups, and that the Uzbek government was the only enemy he had.

'Uzbek threats'

Map of Kyrgyzstan

Before his death, Mr Saipov was often portrayed as an enemy of the state on Uzbek state-controlled television.

The ICG report says that he received several threats from the Uzbek side and was warned that he should stop publishing his opposition newspaper, which became very popular ahead of the last year's presidential election.

Since the vote, which gave President Islam Karimov another seven-year term in office, the EU and the United States have seemed more willing to restore their relationship with Uzbekistan.

The ICG says that Mr Saipov's murder shows the West should instead take a tougher stance on Uzbekistan.

Mr Saipov's colleagues hope that the report will put pressure on the Kyrgyz police and push their investigation forward.

But Kyrgyzstan relies on gas supplies from Uzbekistan, and it has never before managed to stand up to its big neighbour.

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