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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May, 2005, 19:22 GMT 20:22 UK
After the violence, fear in Andijan
By Jenny Norton
BBC, Andijan

Tanks on a road in Andijan
Security forces line the streets in central Andijan
More than a week after Uzbek troops opened fire on unarmed demonstrators, life in Andijan is far from returning to normal.

The bazaars and tea houses may have reopened, but the city is full of fear.

Everyday life now coexists with another, more sinister world in which people speak in whispers about what really happened 10 days ago.

All roads leading to the city's central square are still blocked off by tanks and armoured cars.

A huge portrait of President Islam Karimov at a main road junction has mysteriously disappeared, replaced by an advert for a mobile phone company.

On Navoi Prospect, the town's tree-lined main thoroughfare, armed troops are stationed at every street corner.

A wall pockmarked with bullet holes
We beat them so hard that even their own mothers would not recognise them - we beat some of them to death
Policeman in Andijan

They stand incongruously in camouflage gear amid flowerbeds full of scarlet roses and lilies.

Some of the buildings are pocked with bullet holes.

We counted more than 100 across the yellow-washed facade of school number 24, some from Kalashnikovs, others from heavy machine-gun fire.

A passer-by tells us he saw a woman and a little girl lying dead by the children's clinic.

He says he does not really know what happened, but that the authorities said on television that it was a terrorist attack.

Hidden horrors

A policeman at a checkpoint also thinks he is taking part in a huge anti-terrorist operation.

He tells us he is from another city, and that has been here for a week.

"We caught some of the terrorists on Friday night," he says with a smile.

UZBEK TROUBLES
Map of Uzbekistan showing location of Andijan
Most populous central Asian former Soviet republic, home to 26m people
Ruled since 1991 independence by autocrat Islam Karimov
Accused by human rights groups of serious abuses, including torture
Rocked by violence in capital Tashkent in 2004
Government says radical Islamist groups behind violence

"We beat them so hard that even their own mothers would not recognise them. We beat some of them to death."

It is a shocking glimpse into Andijan's hidden horrors.

But there are more to come.

At a tiny graveyard in one of the old town neighbourhoods, people appear out of nowhere to point out the newly dug graves.

There are six, all young men, each with a row of stones, or an upturned china bowl to mark the spot.

"Those two over there were brothers," an old man tells me.

"They had six children between them. They went to the square just to see what was happening."

Before I can ask anything more, he slips away.

Activists in hiding

At other cemeteries, there is a similar picture.

One grave digger tells us all but one of the nine bodies he has buried had a shot to the head.

It is a story we have heard from other sources too.

And later in the day, a terrified witness says local people saw soldiers chasing demonstrators through the winding streets of the old town and finishing off the injured with a bullet to the head.

A fresh grave in Andijan
Newly dug graves bear witness to the violent end to the protests

It is clear that there is a concerted campaign going on in Andijan both to suppress the truth about how many people really died in the violence, and to silence eyewitnesses who saw what happened.

Almost all the human rights activists working in the city have gone into hiding or left the country. Those that remain are afraid for their lives.

One tells us that armed police in plain clothes have been going from door to door, rounding up young men suspected of having some connection to the people who organised the protests.

Even relatives looking for their loved ones in hospitals and mortuaries across the cities have been taken away.

High death toll

The same source said he feared the death toll could be much higher than the 500 casualties estimated in the aftermath of the violence.

The truth may be hard to discover, he said, because the dead are being buried secretly and hurriedly at cemeteries in outlying districts of the town.

Fire-damaged building in Andijan
Some of those involved in the protest now fear for their lives

Many people spoke of secret burials in the Bogi Shamol cemetery in the south of the city.

Eventually, we found a grave-digger who said he had been sent there last week to bury at least 40 bodies, all young men, two to a grave.

Our attempts to get there proved futile. We were stopped at a military checkpoint and held up for almost an hour, with a sniper's gun trained on us.

Eventually, two local security officers turned up and made it clear that in their words, we were not safe in the city. We understood it was time to leave.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Footage from the Uzbek city where many lost their lives



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