Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Uneasy Calm in Karasuu

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By IWPR


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Protesters in Karasuu.

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Security forces in Karasuu.

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Karasuu residents.
May 21.

Pictures Sherzod Yusupov

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Soldiers and police keep a close eye on frontier town’s population in wake of uprising.


By Valiakhd Nazarov in Karasuu (RCA No. 382, 27-May-05)


Life appears to be returning to normal in Karasuu. Shuttle traders buy Chinese goods at a market on the Kyrgyz side, and take them over a newly-rebuilt bridge into Uzbekistan. Consignments of garlic, onions and strawberries move in the other direction. Passports are checked by border guards of both republics. All seems calm.


But the streets on the Uzbek side of the town - which straddles the frontier - are full of soldiers and armed police officers, and locals say that large numbers of National Security Service, NSS, operatives in plain clothes are everywhere.


The security forces are here because of the border town’s six-day rebellion, which followed a bloody government crackdown in the Fergana valley city of Andijan. The alleged ringleaders of the Karasuu uprising are now in custody – but Tashkent is taking no chances over a possible repeat of the disturbance.


The locals strenuously deny claims that Islamic extremists were behind the revolt, saying the detained leader, Bakhtiyar Rahimov, was a well-liked figure trying to provide an alternative to life under the rule of President Islam Karimov.


Rahimov is from a successful business family that owns a long-established sock factory in the town and a large farm.


One craftsman in the Uzbek part of Karasuu told this reporter that Rahimov, an observant Muslim who has called for Karasuu to be run according to Islamic principles, had done good work in the region, and was never viewed as a religious radical. A local woman scoffed at the notion that Rahimov was an Islamic extremist. “He helped to develop the city of Karasuu,” she said.


Another local woman warned that unless he and his colleague Dilmurod Mamajonov, who was arrested along with Rahimov, were set free, the area could be hit by further unrest. A protest demanding their liberty was held on May 21, and others may follow.


“We very much hope for their release, because they are not extremists,” she said firmly. “Unless they are released, we will rise up again.”


At 4 am on May 19, Rahimov and Mamajonov were among a group of people who were arrested by the Uzbek authorities and allegedly badly beaten.


An IWPR source said that soldiers with automatic weapons took them to an Andijan jail. En route, they were allegedly pistol whipped on their heads, backs, chests and stomachs.


“Rahimov and Mamajanov are still in an Andijan jail,” the source said. “Perhaps they have already been taken to Tashkent. They were badly beaten in Andijan - beaten with automatic weapons.”


The two have been charged with religious extremism and of having ties with members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, and the Taleban in Afghanistan. There are unconfirmed reports that they have been brutally tortured while in custody.


When IWPR went to Rahimov’s home, his brother Olim could be seen in a car outside, in the company of another man – an NSS officer in plain clothes, according to our taxi driver. There were also cars with Andijan number plates outside Mamajonov’s home, suggesting that the secret police were there too.


The Tashkent authorities appear to be taking no risks in Karasuu. Outside every cafe or shop sit around 15 policemen dressed in bright green uniforms and flak jackets, with automatic weapons at their sides. Among them are soldiers – big men in blue and white striped camouflage.


A taxi driver told this reporter that aside from the regular troops, the special Kolpon (Panther) division has been sent to Karasuu from Andijan. These troops walk around the market in small groups. Along the border there are around 300 soldiers of various divisions, not counting police, and traffic police and NSS officers in civilian clothing.


Another taxi driver said that he drives an NSS officer from his base in Andijan to Karasuu every day, and fears that repression will soon follow. He claimed that the officer told him that “every house and every garden will be searched, and all those involved in the rebellion will be arrested”.


According to a report from a source in the Kurgan-Tyube district administration, members of the local military academy and other army units are being prepared for a general mobilisation in case of further trouble.


Although life appears to be returning to normal here, locals say they are unnerved by the high security presence and fear the worst. “These soldiers hate us because they are constantly told that residents of this valley are all extremists and terrorists,” said one saleswoman. “We are scared that, like the people of Andijan, we may also be shot at.”


Valiakhd Nazarov is the pseudonym of an IWPR reporter in Karasuu.


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