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Last Updated: Monday, 16 May, 2005, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
Uzbeks seek refuge in Kyrgyzstan
By Ian MacWilliam
Teshiktash, Kyrgyz border

Uzbek refugees from Andijan sit in a refugee camp near Jalal-Abad region, some 600 kilometres (370 miles) south of the capital Bishkek, at the border with Uzbekistan, Monday, May 16, 2005.
Most of the refugees are men
Kyrgyzstan has been registering more than 500 refugees who escaped from the Uzbek town of Andijan, after troops opened fire on protesters on Friday.

The refugees, mostly men but including some women and small children, say they fear government reprisals if they return to Uzbekistan.

The 540 refugees are crowded into an encampment of 10 large tents near the remote border crossing at Teshiktash.

They escaped Andijan after possibly hundreds of protesters were killed.

They came on foot from Andijan, 50km (30 miles) away, walking in groups all night through fields and along side roads to avoid check posts and patrols on the main road.

Uzbek troops opened fire on them again near the border, killing some and wounding others. But the Kyrgyz border guards then allowed them to cross the frontier.

Local officials are registering them and will decide whether to let them stay in the country.

The refugees say if they are sent back they will be imprisoned.

Some of the 23 Andijan businessmen, whose trial on charges of Islamic extremism prompted the demonstration in the town, are among the refugees.

In the dark

They said they had no idea why the government had accused them of extremism.

Most of the men have left their families behind in Andijan and are worried about possible government reprisals against them.

There have been suggestions that some of the organisers of the Andijan protest might be among these refugees.

When asked however, most said they did not know who the organisers were and that they were simply taking part because they could no longer tolerate the corruption and repressive measures of the Uzbek government.

This appears to be the only large group of refugees from Andijan.

Some people are reported to have crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan to stay with relatives. But many people who might want to leave would be prevented by the numerous security checkpoints on Uzbek roads.




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