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OSCE Weighs In on Uzbekistan

Europe's largest rights and security body urged Russia on Friday not to extradite 13 people wanted by Uzbekistan for alleged involvement in the 2005 Andijan uprising in the Central Asian state.

The call from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, came two days after Uzbekistan's neighbor Kyrgyzstan extradited five refugees who fled Andijan, scene of what human rights groups call a massacre by government troops.

Last week, the Russian Prosecutor General's Office said it was "satisfied" with Uzbekistan's request to extradite 13 Uzbek citizens held in detention in Russia, giving the green light for the start of procedures to send them home.

"I call upon the Russian authorities to stop the extradition process," OSCE chairman Karel De Gucht said in a statement.

Gucht, who is also Belgium's foreign minister, urged Russia "to continue to work together with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, to resolve this case in a manner consistent with international law."

Hundreds of refugees fled the Uzbek town of Andijan in May 2005 after witnesses said they saw troops kill hundreds of men, women and children.

Uzbekistan denies its troops killed civilians. It says 187 people died when security forces moved against "terrorists" whose aim was to overthrow the government and establish an Islamic caliphate.

Uzbekistan wants the refugees returned to the country, saying it has evidence that they are criminals.

The United Nations and rights groups have said they fear refugees could face torture and execution in Uzbekistan.

The bulk of the people who fled Andijan went to Kyrgyzstan. The UNHCR arranged for most of them to be resettled in European countries.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres last week described the extradition of Uzbek refugees by Kyrgyzstan as "an extremely serious violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention."

Uzbek authorities meanwhile accused a U.S. aid group of proselytizing and other illegal activities Friday, and said they were seeking its closure amid a continuing crackdown on foreign nongovernmental organizations.

The Justice Ministry said in a statement that it had requested the city court in the capital, Tashkent, to close down Crosslink Development International, a development and aid group based in the U.S. state of Minnesota.

The statement, posted on a government-run web site, alleged the group was proselytizing in the predominantly Muslim country, ran unregistered branches and issued illegal cash credits.

The group's office in Tashkent had no immediate comment. The group's web site says it has been operating the Central Asian nation since 1992, working on public health, water quality and economic development projects.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov's government has launched a campaign against foreign aid groups in an apparent retaliation for the Western criticism of the suppression of the Andijan revolt.

Dozens of aid groups and several foreign media outlets have been forced out of the Central Asian nation, accused of various misdeeds ranging from illegal proselytizing to espionage.

(The Moscow Times 14.viii.06)

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