More than a week after government security forces fired on protesters in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan, residents continue to count their dead, while local human activists report more than 3,000 residents remain unaccounted for.
"Our representatives in Andijan talk about 3,000 people missing," Vasilya Inoyatova, head of the Ezgulik human rights group, told IRIN from Tashkent. She noted many people were afraid to go to the police to report their sons or relatives missing fearing possible persecution.
Local people are continuing to emphasise that many more than 169 people – the official figure -were killed in the violence of 13 May. "I am more than sure that during the first days more than 500 people were killed. The number of injured was more than 2,000 and the death toll could now be more than 1,000, including women, elderly and children," Surat Ikramov, head of the Initiative Group of Independent Rights Activists of Uzbekistan, a local NGO, told IRIN from the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, on Tuesday.
"I was in Andijan on Sunday and on Saturday the last body was reportedly delivered to relatives, having a number tag of 1,007. But these reports are not official and we cannot get a clear answer from the authorities on the issue," Inoyatova added.
Violence erupted in the city when a group of men stormed the local prison and freed 23 businessmen accused of being Islamic extremists. A large protest was then staged in the city's main square, joined by hundreds of residents as well as the freed prisoners. Witnesses said troops fired indiscriminately at civilians in the crowd. But details of what exactly transpired remain sketchy, with the Uzbek authorities going to great lengths to keep journalists out.
One witness, Saidjahan Zainabiddinov, a prominent human rights activist, is currently being held in an Andijan jail after trying to tell the outside world what had happened. Zainabiddinov's version of events directly contradicts government claims that those who died were Islamic militants trying to overthrow the state. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), which is calling for his immediate release, many news reports of the killings quoted Zainabiddinov's description of events as well as the human rights, political and economic context in Uzbekistan.
"We are extremely concerned for Saidjahan Zainabiddinov's safety," Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW said in a statement on Tuesday. "The Uzbek government should release him immediately pending an independent review of any charges against him."
The likelihood of that happening in the near future looks remote.
On Monday, the European Union (EU) threatened diplomatic pressure against Uzbekistan unless Uzbek President Islam Karimov allows an international inquiry to proceed in to the bloody events in Andijan. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw insisted that the EU, which had limited commercial and political links with the former Soviet republic of 26 million, could back UN demands for an inquiry, a Reuters report said on Monday.
"We can bring a great deal of pressure to bear in Uzbekistan," he was reported as saying. "The questions about these killings will not go away unless and until there is an independent international inquiry."
The EU has strongly condemned what they described as "excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force" by Uzbek security forces in Andijan, while at the same time implicitly blaming Tashkent for the violence and for failing to do more to alleviate poverty, the report added.
But Karimov, who has single-handedly ruled Central Asia's most populous nation since it gained its independence in 1991, has shown little appetite for backing down.
While the international community wrestles with what to do next, the true story of what actually took place in Andijan remains untold, much of it already buried in the many freshly dug graves around the city.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions