A new report by the United Nations indicates that many Uzbek civilians were indiscriminately gunned down during a demonstration in Andijan. U-N investigators gathered their information from among the nearly five-hundred Uzbek asylum seekers who fled to neighboring Kyrgyzstan after the government brutally suppressed protests in Andijan.
The demonstrations were sparked by the arrest of twenty-three Uzbek businessmen accused of "religious fundamentalism." The businessmen were freed when armed individuals stormed the detention center, occupied government buildings, and took hostages. Andijan citizens took to the streets peacefully to express their frustration with abuse of government power, unemployment, and other social grievances. Without warning, the government responded by repeatedly and indiscriminately shooting at the crowd.
The Uzbek government claims fewer than two-hundred people were killed during the protests. But the U-N report says other sources, including human rights groups and asylum seekers, put the death toll at hundreds more. According to eyewitnesses interviewed, events in Andijan amounted to a "mass killing."
U-N spokesman Jose Dias says there are many discrepancies between eyewitness reports and Uzbek government accounts of what happened in Andijan:
"Unanswered questions about the seizure of a regional administrative building, the overrunning of a prison, and the subsequent release of prisoners require clarification through comprehensive investigation. Through the report, the High Commissioner is reiterating her call for an independent, international investigation of the events in Andijan in mid-May."
U.S. State Department acting spokesman Thomas Casey says the United States continues to call on the Uzbek government to allow an international investigation of events in Andijan:
"Certainly, the Uzbekistan government owes its citizens and owes the international community a serious, credible, and independent investigation of those events. And we are continuing to push for such an investigation with the government of Uzbekistan and with our partners in the international community. We certainly stand ready, as we always have, to cooperate and assist in such an investigation."
The U.S. is required to withhold assistance to the government of Uzbekistan if it fails to meet its commitments, including progress on human rights. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will consider all issues – including recent events – relevant to the state of economic, social, and political reform when making this year's determination on whether to continue assistance to Uzbekistan.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.