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Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Praises Relations With Uzbekistan

Boss Hog

TRIBE Member
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Praises Relations With Uzbekistan as Mother of Prisoner Tortured to Death Released

By Burt Herman Associated Press Writer
Published: Feb 24, 2004

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan (AP) - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday praised Uzbekistan's support in the war on terror, hours after an Uzbek court ordered the release of a woman convicted in a much-criticized trial after publicizing her imprisoned son's suspected death by torture.

"The United States is pleased with the release that's been made," Rumsfeld said at a news conference.

After meeting Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Rumsfeld said he also discussed setting up a U.S. military staging point in Uzbekistan, where U.S. forces could drop in to gain quick access to crisis areas without maintaining a permanent base. But Rumsfeld said the Pentagon "has no plans to put permanent bases in this part of the world."

Uzbekistan became a key Washington ally after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, offering use of Khanabad air base near the Afghan border - instrumental for U.S. forces who ousted the hardline Taliban from power in Afghanistan. The United States and Uzbekistan signed a strategic partnership agreement in 2002.

"The relationship is strong and is growing stronger," Rumsfeld said at a news conference. "We look forward to strengthening our political and economic relations."

As a nod to international pressure just hours before Rumsfeld's arrival, an Uzbek court reduced the sentence and ordered freed a 62-year-old woman convicted of anti-constitutional activity after publicizing her son's death in prison from torture by being boiled alive. Her family and human rights activists said the trial was motivated because she sought justice in her son's case, a claim the Uzbek government denies.

Fatima Mukadirova's sentence was reduced at a hearing in Tashkent City Court from six years in prison to a $283 fine because of her age and gender.

Her son, Muzafar Avazov, and another prisoner were allegedly beaten and tortured to death by prison officers in 2002 for refusing to abandon their religious convictions and attempting to practice religious rites in a notorious prison housing imprisoned extremists. Avazov's body was found with scald marks, and a report by the U.N. special envoy for torture said an expert found the wounds were consistent with someone being immersed in a tub of boiling water.

Mukadirova had met with journalists and displayed pictures of her son's body and appealed to authorities to punish those involved. Uzbek authorities say Avazov died in a prison fight and was burned when a teapot was thrown at him.

New York-based Human Rights Watch had called Tuesday on Rumsfeld to raise Uzbekistan's internationally condemned record on human rights during his meetings, and to tell the Uzbeks that such policies will impede greater cooperation.

Uzbekistan failed last year to make improvements in human rights under requirements for funding under a U.S. nonproliferation program, forcing President Bush in December to grant a waiver in the interests of national security.

The strategic partnership agreement between the countries also requires progress on human rights for the Uzbek government to receive aid. The next evaluation, due in April, is expected to be a close call - and a presidential waiver isn't seen as likely. However, that decision would only affect aid from the State Department, not military assistance paid by the Pentagon.

Rumsfeld is also to visit Kazakhstan and Afghanistan before heading Thursday back to Washington.

AP-ES-02-24-04 1031EST

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