US forces to leave Uzbekistan base by the end of the year

US troops will be withdrawn from Uzbekistani military base by the end of the year, a senior US diplomat has confirmed.

Assistant US Secretary of State Daniel Fried, speaking after talks in Tashkent, said the US had agreed to the demand "without further discussion".

He admitted bilateral ties had gone through a "very difficult period" after the US criticised Uzbek suppression of an uprising in Andijan in May.

But he dismissed as "ludicrous" claims that the US had been behind the unrest.

The airbase at Karshi-Khanabad in south-eastern Uzbekistan has been an important hub for US operations in neighbouring Afghanistan following the 11 September 2001 attacks.

"The Uzbek government made it clear that we need to leave the base, and we intend to leave it without further discussion," said Mr Fried after meeting Uzbek President Islam Karimov, reports BBC.

According to Newsday, "The United States and Uzbekistan have had a very difficult period in relations complicated by grave concerns regarding the human rights situation and events in Andijan," Fried said.

He dismissed as "ludicrous and non-credible" the allegations made by defendants in the ongoing trial of 15 men suspected of involvement in the May 13 Andijan revolt that the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent provided money to those who plotted the rebellion.

"We are not to be accused of an intention to establish an Islamic caliphate in Uzbekistan," Fried said, referring to the Uzbek authorities' claim that the defendants had planned to establish an Islamic state.

Uzbek authorities hope the carefully choreographed trial will refute accusations that government troops fired on a crowd of protesters in Andijan, killing hundreds, and support its contention that extremist Islamic groups from abroad encouraged the protest.

Human rights groups allege that the confessions were coerced through torture.

"I made it clear we support civil society and NGOs around the world," Fried said, commenting on the recent shutdown of two American aid groups in Uzbekistan. "I regret NGOs are under pressure from the Uzbek government."

Photo: the AP P.T.

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