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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 July, 2004, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Uzbek trials seek answers to violence
By Malcolm Haslett
BBC Eurasia analyst

Fifteen accused people sit in the dock during their trial at the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan in Tashkent, 26 July 2004.
The trials of those accused of the violence began on Monday
Trials have started in Uzbekistan of people accused of involvement in a series of bomb attacks and shootings in late March.

The violence was unprecedented, involving at least two suicide bombings and heavy loss of life. The overall death toll is suspected to be much higher than the official count of 47.

A full picture of what happened is difficult to obtain, because of reporting restrictions at the time.

But it does seem that the Uzbek police were a particular target in major incidents in Tashkent, at the Chorsu market and near the TTZ tractor factory, close to one of President Karimov's residences.

Nor was the violence confined to the capital. At least 10 people died in an explosion in the ancient city of Bukhara, and there were unconfirmed reports of incidents elsewhere.

Another matter of dispute is the identify of the bombers, and the aims which prompted them to resort to violence.

That dispute could influence the way Uzbekistan moves on in the next few years.

The Uzbek authorities maintain that the violence was the work of groups with close ties to international terrorism.

They say that a crackdown on these groups is very much as part of the global struggle against terrorism.

But human rights groups and at least some local citizens dispute this. The official version, they argue, deliberately overlooks the widespread frustration among Uzbek citizens over the already severe restrictions on political and religious expression, as well as the failure of the economy.

US officials, however, have criticised some civil rights groups, saying they "underestimate the global Islamist threat".

They stress the need for a long-term evolution towards democratic values, citing the examples of South Korea and Taiwan.

The Bush administration is anxious to maintain the current high level of co-operation between Washington and Tashkent - in part, no doubt, because Uzbekistan continues to provide the US and its allies with an important base at Khanabad in the country's east.

The Americans also know that Russia, keen to re-establish its former pre-eminent influence in Uzbekistan, will certainly not allow human rights concerns to influence its position.

Moscow has expressed unqualified support for a crackdown against Islamic militants, which it sees as vindicating its own stance in Chechnya.

Tashkent police question an elderly lady
The violence left Tashkent residents shocked and confused
Russian analysts have also, rather mischievously, suggested to the Uzbeks that the violence in March was a direct consequence of their alliance with Washington.

In a visit to Moscow two weeks after the violence, Uzbek president Islam Karimov called for closer Uzbek-Russian co-operation against terrorism.

But he has yet to make any direct move to reduce links with the US.

Foreign capitals will be closely monitoring the coming trials for any indication of further swings in Uzbek foreign policy.




SEE ALSO:
Uzbek terror attacks trial opens
26 Jul 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Al-Qaeda 'linked to Uzbek unrest'
01 Apr 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Uzbek siege man blows himself up
31 Mar 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Causes of Uzbek unrest
31 Mar 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Uzbekistan
14 Jan 04 |  Country profiles


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