- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Warning in Uzbekistan

The U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan yesterday urged Americans in that troubled Central Asian nation to keep their children home from school for the rest of the academic year because of the threat of terrorist violence.

Although the school year for the children of most American diplomats ends on Friday, the warning underscored increasing tension in the former Soviet republic that has a special security relationship with the United States in the war on terrorism. U.S. troops are stationed in southern Uzbekistan to support operations in neighboring Afghanistan.

“In light of the terrorist threat announced in the travel warning released by the U.S. Department of State on June 2, 2005, the U.S. Embassy has instructed its personnel not to send their children to school for the rest of the school year,” the embassy said on its Web site (www.usembassy.uz).

Last week, the State Department urged nonessential employees of the embassy and their families to leave Uzbekistan.

“The United States government has received information that terrorist groups are planning attacks, possibly against U.S. interests in Uzbekistan in the very near future,” the department said.

It specified supporters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, al Qaeda, the Islamic Jihad Union and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement as potential threats to Americans.

Uzbekistan — run by an authoritarian president, crippled by widespread government corruption and struggling under a 30 percent unemployment rate — suffered an increase in terrorist attacks last year, when suicide bombers attacked targets in the capital, Tashkent, including the U.S. Embassy.

Last month, the government dispatched troops to crush a rebellion in the town of Andijan, where armed gangs attacked the local prison and freed hundreds of captives, including 23 businessmen widely thought to have been arrested on false charges of Islamic extremist activities. Government troops opened fire on a crowd of unarmed civilians who supported the uprising. The death toll is estimated at being between 500 and 1,000.

Uzbek dilemma

The United States must encourage religious tolerance, economic reform and the rule of law if it hopes to prevent Uzbekistan from collapsing into a terrorist nation, said the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

“No matter what happens, U.S. options are limited,” said Chris Seiple, a senior fellow at the think tank and president of the Washington-based Institute for Global Engagement, which promotes international religious freedom.

Mr. Seiple, in an article on the Web site (www.fpri.org), said: “Uzbekistan is not yet the home of radical Islam, but it has the potential to become one.”

He urged the Bush administration to encourage the Uzbek government to promote religious freedom, calling it “the ultimated counterterrorism strategy.”

“If people are allowed to choose a faith freely and brought to appreciate that they cannot use violence to overthrow the government, then they will disavow extremism for what it is,” he said.

Mr. Seiple said Washington must press Uzbek President Islam Karimov to prosecute those responsible for the bloodshed in Andijan and to eliminate torture in prison. He called for an economic plan that will produce jobs and reduce corruption.

Mr. Seiple, a specialist on Uzbekistan, said political power is divided among a “patchwork” of clans with varying loyalties and conflicting interests. Mr. Karimov’s most formidable political rivals are Interior Minister Zakir Almatov and Gen. Rustam Inoyatov, director of the National Security Service.

Mr. Seiple foresees three scenarios: a continuation of the status quo, including the government’s view of the Andijan uprising as a “wake-up call” for reform. “The third possibility,” he said, “is civil war.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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