Oil Report

Amnesty says lifting Uzbek sanctions is premature

ALMATY, Oct 23 (Reuters) - The European Union must investigate further before lifting an arms embargo imposed on Uzbekistan in 2005 for the killings of civilians in Andizhan, Amnesty International said on Friday.

“If the arms embargo is lifted without an investigation the EU will be making a mockery of its own demands and the only form of international pressure over Uzbekistan will be gone,” the human rights group quoted its acting EU director, Natalia Alonso, as saying in a letter.

The EU has been trying to improve ties with Central Asian states to help secure future energy supplies and diversify away from Russian gas and oil.

The pan-European bloc lifted visa bans on top Uzbek officials last October to reward what it said was progress in human rights, but kept the arms embargo.

EU diplomats said this week they were preparing to lift the last of the sanctions imposed over the Andizhan crackdown, in which witnesses say troops killed hundreds of protesters.

“The Andizhan question is not something of the past, it is directly linked to much of what is happening in Uzbekistan today,” Alonso said.

Rights groups say the former Soviet republic has jailed thousands of dissidents and political foes of President Islam Karimov, a charge the government denies.

Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Michael Roddy