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Friday, 19 November, 1999, 19:37 GMT
Uzbekistan voices security concerns
Mr Karimov said war in Afghanistan threatens neighbouring countries

By BBC Monitoring's Kate Goldberg in Tashkent

Uzbekistan's authoritarian President, Islam Karimov, has criticised the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe for paying too much attention to human rights, rather than concentrating on the security issues facing Central Asia and the CIS.

In the past 10 months, the former Soviet country has been shaken by a series of violent events, which officials say are connected to the conflicts in Chechnya, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

"As long as war continues in Afghanistan, the threat to peace, security and democratic reforms in the neighbouring states of Central Asia will remain, and the source of international terrorism and its expansion well beyond the region's boundaries will be preserved," Mr Karimov said at the OSCE summit in Istanbul.

On Monday, a group of gunmen suspected of being Islamic fundamentalists killed three locals and three policemen in a shoot-out near the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. Five militants were killed the following day in a massive security operation in which 1,500 officers were deployed. But police say that 10 to 15 militants are still hiding in the mountains.

Europe 'fails to understand'

The president said one of the militants who was killed was from Dagestan, which was "proof that all these events are interlinked".

11 people were killed in clashes near Tashkent
Mr Karimov says that European countries fail to understand that there can be no freedom without tough measures to "physically wipe out" all the militants.

"If there is no peace and stability, no security, in a region, then how is it possible to protect human rights?" he said before leaving for the Istanbul summit.

"The OSCE focus only on the establishment of democracy, the protection of human rights and freedom of the press. I am now questioning the importance of these issues," he added.

At the Istanbul summit, he called on the OSCE to set up an international centre to fight terrorism, and for the creation of civilian rapid reaction forces.

Violence spreads across Central Asia

The shooting this week is the latest in a string of violent incidents which the authorities believe have threatened the stability of both Uzbekistan and the whole of Central Asia.

Hundreds of gunmen streamed into neighbouring Kyrgyzstan from bases in northern Tajikistan in August, demanding entry into Uzbekistan. They alarmed the international community by taking a number of Kyrgyz and Japanese hostages, who were only released in October.

They are said to belong to the banned Uzbek opposition party, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which has declared a Jihad - or holy war - on Uzbekistan.

Russian and Central Asian leaders say that members of the group have been trained in Chechnya, Dagestan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan, and that the entire southern flank of the former Soviet Union is vulnerable to attacks from such "religious extremists".

The Uzbek Government says the group was also behind a wave of bomb blasts in Tashkent that killed 16 people in February, and narrowly missed the president.

The latest shooting incident is being blamed on the same gunmen, who now appear to have successfully entered the country. Mr Karimov blames the incursion on what he calls the "weak policy" pursued by Kyrgyzstan.

Human rights record challenged

However, another banned opposition party, Erk, said the February bomb blasts were the beginning of Mr Karimov's election campaigns, as they served as an excuse to imprison six members of the opposition before the upcoming parliamentary elections in December.

Human rights organisations have also strongly criticised the Uzbek Government for allegedly beating up opposition members and torturing suspected Islamic militants to extract confessions. But Mr Karimov has denied such charges.

"Notions of democracy and human rights are vast. They cover spirituality and national heritage," he said before the OSCE summit

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See also:
19 Nov 99 |  Europe
Chechnya overshadows security accords
16 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
6 dead after shoot out in Uzbekistan
04 Nov 99 |  Europe
CIS to discuss combatting terrorism
03 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Central Asia's Islamic battle

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