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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 May 2006, 14:59 GMT 15:59 UK
Still waiting to bury their dead
By Natalia Antelava
BBC News, Kyrgyzstan

On 13 May, a tiny group of people stood, holding banners, a few feet away from the Kyrgyz border with Uzbekistan.
Protest marking the anniversary of the Andijan killings at the Uzbek embassy in Moscow
This protest was held in Moscow, but there were none in Uzbekistan

"Islam Karimov is a dictator", "We will never forget Andijan," their slogans read.

This was the only ceremony of remembrance held anywhere near Uzbekistan.

Across the border, inside Uzbekistan, there was no public mourning, no official memorial service for those who died when the Uzbek troops opened fire on the demonstrators, killing dozens, possibly hundreds of civilians.

And even this protest, on the Kyrgyz side of the border, finished almost as soon as it had begun.

"We were warned by the Kyrgyz authorities not to do this," one man explained as he folded away his banner.

"Kyrgyzstan does not want trouble with its big neighbour and they could easily deport us back," he said, looking nervously to his right where, beyond a narrow footbridge just a few feet away beyond the Kyrgyz checkpoint, the Uzbek soldiers guarded the border.

Unanswered questions

This protest was a rare act of bravery here. Most people are still terrified of speaking about what happened last year in their hometown of Andijan, and those who are willing to speak out are too afraid to give their name.

"We are living in total fear," one refugee told me.

File photograph of some victims of Andijan uprising in Uzbekistan in May 2005

His wife and five children are still in Andijan. He says he has not talked to her once in the past year.

"A friend of mine who escaped called home a few months after the Andijan events, the next day the security services arrested his wife," he said.

Many of his friends, he said, still do not know what happened to their relatives who were at the square on the night of 13 May 2005.

There are other questions too. Such as who were the alleged armed militants behind the uprising, how many died when the government troops opened fire on demonstrators or what happened to scores of people who have simply disappeared.

The survivors speak of mass graves and mass arrests, but none of it is possible to confirm independently.

Engagement

One year on, and the world still faces two completely different versions of the story.

The version told by eyewitnesses is a chilling account of what the UN has called a massacre of innocent civilians and what the international human rights groups say was the single worst atrocity committed by any government against demonstrators since the killings around China's Tiananmen square in 1989.

Tashkent protest
A small protest in Tashkent on Friday was broken up

The other version is presented by Uzbek President Islam Karimov who says 187 people were killed when his troops confronted a gang of what he called dangerous Islamic militants.

On the international arena President Karimov is not without his supporters.

He spent the eve of the anniversary meeting his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, the man who has been willing to listen, and to support the official version of the events - as has Beijing.

Over the past year, both Russia and China have significantly expanded their cooperation with Uzbekistan.

And while the West has largely withdrawn its support, the reaction has not been resolute enough, according to Michael Hall from the think-tank the International Crisis Group.

"What concerns us is that there seems to be an over-emphasis on dialogue and engagement, particularly on the part of Europe," he said.

"I am all in favour of it, but only when there is something useful to be gained from it and when both parties are actively involved and interested, which President Karimov clearly isn't."

Since last year, a number of Western organisations have shut down their operations in Uzbekistan, many Western and local journalists have been banned and President Karimov has rejected calls for an international inquiry.

The message is clear - the story of Andijan is over, President Karimov's Uzbekistan has moved on.

But it seems those affected by it have been left behind.

As one refugee here put it, one year on, many in Andijan are still waiting to bury their dead.

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