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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 November, 2003, 07:21 GMT
Envoy to resume Uzbekistan post
Tashkent
Ambassador Craig Murray has criticised the Uzbek authorities
The UK ambassador to Uzbekistan is to return to work, following claims he was being pushed out of his job.

Craig Murray, 44, returned to the UK two months ago to receive medical treatment for an unspecified condition.

Uzbek authorities had indicated he was unlikely to return, after he spoke out against the human rights record in the country - a new strategic US ally.

But the Foreign Office said Mr Murray would head back at the weekend, and backed his criticisms of the regime.

The Foreign Office has never given details of the condition for which Mr Murray needed treatment.

But campaigners said he had been suffering depression after being threatened over alleged misconduct, following a "smear campaign" about his behaviour.

This came after he annoyed his hosts and, therefore, Uzbekistan's new ally the US, with his outspoken comments, they said.

Coalition forces have had a vital base in Uzbekistan since the 11 September attacks, from which they can launch operations into neighbouring Afghanistan.

Torture

Lord Avebury, the Liberal Democrat peer and vice-chairman of the parliamentary human rights group, said the whole affair was "odd".

"There were a lot of rumours going around about pressure by the Americans, by the Uzbek government, who didn't like the outspoken stance our ambassador had taken," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He said Foreign Office Minister Baroness Symons, announcing Mr Murray's return in the House of Lords, had given an ambiguous answer to a question on whether the US had pressured the UK over Mr Murray.

"She said 'no formal representations had been made'.

"So one could infer from that the Americans have been saying things about him behind the scenes.

"But obviously the biggest culprits were the Uzbek government themselves."

Cracks covered

However, the affair had ended well, he said.

"She reaffirmed not only the support of the Foreign Office for our ambassador, but also the prime minister."

So any rumoured rift between Downing Street and the Foreign Office was now over, he said.

"Or that crack, if there was one, was papered over and he enjoys the full support of the whole government."

Baroness Symonds backed Mr Murray's stance on the former Soviet state's human rights record.

'Critical engagement'

She admitted that prisoners had been tortured, as well as pointing out that "appalling" deaths in custody had occurred.

Uzbekistan had no independent political parties and it muzzled its press, controlled religious activity and tortured its prisoners, she said.

But Britain would maintain a policy of "critical engagement", she said.

Both the US and Uzbekistan have denied any involvement in bringing pressure to bear over Mr Murray.




SEE ALSO:
Timeline: Uzbekistan
09 Jul 03  |  Country profiles
Reform delays 'hitting Uzbekistan'
08 Jul 03  |  Business


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