KARADARIYA, Kyrgyzstan, May 22 - Since May 13, when Uzbek troops used fusillades of gunfire to put down a prison break and demonstration in the eastern city of Andijon, President Islam A. Karimov of Uzbekistan has insisted the troops were fighting Islamic militants, and any civilians struck were felled either by accident or the militants' guns. The Path of Death and EscapeBut lengthy interviews with more than 30 survivors who fled to Kyrgyzstan, combined with accounts collected by opposition workers and human rights groups, consistently indicate that what happened was not as the official version would have it.
Rather, it appears that a poorly conceived armed revolt to Mr. Karimov's centralized government set off a local popular uprising that ended in horror when the Uzbek authorities suppressed a mixed crowd of escaped prison inmates and demonstrators with machine-gun and rifle fire.
The few hours of defiance culminated, the survivors say, in a desperate push by hundreds and perhaps thousands of Uzbek citizens, marching and crawling before the firing soldiers, some chanting "freedom" as people died around them. Much about the events in Andijon, a city of 300,000 in the country's main cotton belt, remains unknown. Uzbekistan has blocked free travel to diplomats, human rights investigators and journalists seeking access to the city. The scale of death is fiercely contested. Mr. Karimov said 32 Uzbek troops and 137 other people had been killed. An opposition party says that at least 745 civilians died in Andijon and Pakhtaabad, a border town, the next day.
The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, a Vienna-based group, says Uzbek troops may have killed 1,000 unarmed people. An independent visit to Andijon by a photographer working for The New York Times also found indications that the death toll was much larger than Mr. Karimov has said. Bullet-riddled bodies were returned to families with numbered toe tags and certificates, families told the photographer and her translator. The numbers on the tags, they said, ranged from the teens to the hundreds. (MORE)