Uzbekistan: Andijan - A policeman's account

Senior officer says "thousands" killed and their bodies systematically concealed.
By Dilya Usmanova in Andijan (RCA No. 392, 01-Jul-05)

A senior police officer in Andijan has given an account of the May 13 violence which ties in with eyewitness reports of massive, deliberate killings of civilians, rather than the government's sanitised version.

The officer approached IWPR with his story, saying he and many of his fellow officers on the city force were shocked at the order to open fire on crowds of protestors, and were ashamed at the outcome.

But they do not dare voice their concerns in public.

The officer, who holds a high position on the Andijan force, has not been named or his post identified in this report as he fears he would suffer immediate reprisals.

"I'm taking a bigger risk than you," the policeman told IWPR's contributor as the interview got under way. "But I can't remain silent."

Claiming that 4,500 people may have died that day - a figure far higher than estimates by human rights activists which run into several hundred, let alone the government's data which suggest about 170 dead - the policeman detailed how security forces carried out the assault.

First, he said, the crowd on Babur Square came under fire from armoured personnel carriers, APCs. Many people were killed at this point, but even more died when panicked demonstrators ran down Cholpon Avenue, straight into a trap set by more APCs blocking the road. A similar ambush awaited those who tried to escape along the nearby Bukhara Street.

"A minimum of four and a half thousand people were killed in the suppression of this rebellion," he said.

The officer said casualties were on a massive scale because of the deployment of the APCs, which are fitted with a powerful machine gun.

The standard APC, a Russian-made eight-wheel vehicle, is fitted with a 14.5 mm heavy machine gun as its main armament, whose huge bullets, stabilised mounting and uninterrupted fire make for much more devastating casualties than the Kalashnikov rifle issued to police and infantrymen.

IWPR contributors on the scene saw evidence that 14.5 mm guns were trained on the crowd. Many bodies had been ripped into several pieces, in a manner consistent with the impact of a heavy projectile. And human rights activists on the ground gathered up numerous spent shell casings, unmistakable because of their size.

"These combat vehicles simply mowed everyone on the square down like hay,"said the officer. "A densely packed crowd of demonstrators occupying the entire area of the square made an ideal target for the APCs and the Spetsnaz troops sitting on them."

The dead included about 30 plainclothes officers from the Andijan police force who had mingled with the crowds. IWPR's source was angered that no attempt was made to extricate them. "When the shooting began on the square, the policemen tried to get out by showing their ID cards, but no one paid any attention and they all died," he said.

The bulk of the operation was carried out by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, including the Spetsnaz or special troops. These units were sent in from Tashkent, while the locally-based police force which also falls under the ministry's control played a lesser role, according to the interviewee.

The investigation and arrests that followed the violence are also being handled by officers from Tashkent, many of whom IWPR's police source does not know.

The first task was to deal with the bodies of those killed. The policeman said he was shocked at the way the authorities concealed bodies and transferred them for secret burial.

"First they buried the bodies of those killed by shells [large-calibre bullets] fired by the APCs because that was visible proof that these people had died at the hands of the authorities. The rebels only had automatic rifles and pistols."

Next came the women and children, whose bodies had been collected up from around the city by the early hours of May 14. These remains were dealt with in several ways - a number were buried in secret some way away from Andijan, and it was rumoured that others were dissolved in acid.

Over the next five days, more bodies were shipped out to neighbouring provinces of Fergana and Namangan, while IWPR's source personally witnessed burials in Andijan.

Graves were dug at a location near the Boghishamol cemetery, and people were buried en masse there over several nights. "At first they put two in each grave, but later on they started indiscriminately dumping 50 bodies in each grave," said the officer.

Fresh graves also appeared at the city's Russian Orthodox cemetery, and many believe they are for unknown numbers of ethnic Uzbeks, who would normally be taken to a Muslim cemetery.

In the aftermath of the violence, police rounded up and tortured people they suspected of some role in the rebellion, IWPR's source said. Men were subjected to rape as well as beatings and other abuses.

Male detainees were threatened that their wives would be brought in and raped in front of them. "This method works very well," commented the police officer.

He said the torture is being carried out by a group of officers brought in from Tashkent. "We are afraid of them ourselves, as they look so fearful," he said.

Despite a massive cover-up and the intimidation of eyewitnesses, especially those talking to journalists, the Andijan officer believes the truth will come out - eventually. "When there is a complete change of power in Uzbekistan, we will find out the whole truth about Andijan," he said. "That won't happen for at least five years."

Dilya Uzmanova is the pseudonym for an IWPR contributor.