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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Target: Terrorism - Uzbekistan, The First Stop on Rumsfeld's Tour

Aired October 3, 2001 - 05:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Now one of the nations on the Secretary of Defense's schedule is a key Afghan neighbor to the north. Uzbekistan is Central Asia's most populous nation and most of its people are Muslims. The country's president has agreed to let the U.S. military use his country's airspace for possible strikes against Afghanistan.

CNN's Alessio Vinci joins us by videophone from Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Alessio, this is a country that also has had its own problems with terrorism.

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is correct, Carol, and the Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld will arrive here seeking full military cooperation with the Uzbek military and he is likely to get what he is looking for because, as you said, this is a country that has been fighting for several years its own breed of terrorism.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VINCI (voice-over): Uzbekistan, Central Asia's most populous nation. A cantreta (ph) has been fighting its own war against what it calls terrorism for a decade. A turning point in that struggle came in February 1999 when a series of car bombs rocked the capital, Tashkent, killing 16 people, injuring many more. The president, Islam Karimov, said the attacks were an assassination attempt against him and blamed Islamic fundamentalists.

(on camera): President Karimov says he is ready to help the U.S. fight against terrorism, but, he says, he will not take the battle to the Taliban in Afghanistan for fear of reprisals. His own war against terrorism began years ago and it is still ongoing.

(voice-over): Militants of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU, have openly declared their intent to overthrow Karimov and install a religious state. The IMU has been on Washington's list of terrorist organizations since last year and is linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network.

In his attempt to stem the spread of extremism, Karimov has maintained a totalitarian secular state banning religious political parties. The country's 90 percent Muslim population is allowed to pray only at government sanctioned mosques. And in the streets of Tashkent, there are more women wearing miniskirts than veils.

Ever since the car bombs, people here will tell you their lives have changed. Some say for the better because there is more security and awareness in the streets. People say they feel safer, and no one here wants Uzbekistan to become another Afghanistan. But in this fight against Islamic insurgence, the government jailed thousands, sometimes for just wearing a long beard, a sign of their Islamic faith.

Since Uzbekistan gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, people here, as in other Central Asian states, experienced a religious revival but reject those who link acts of terror to Islam.

"It is a big mistake if one says that religious extremism is Islamic extremism," says this man. "Extremism exists in every religion, in Judaism, in Catholicism. Those terrorists use religion as a mask to commit their evil crimes. We are all against this."

As President Karimov ponders his options in the global fight against terrorism, there is widespread public support here to join the U.S.-led coalition.

"We have to do it jointly," he says, "one person cannot do it alone. Our people, our government, the Americans and the British, the whole world must do it jointly."

But there is also hope the fight against terrorism will not give the state one more reason to intensify its crackdown on religious freedom.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VINCI: The U.S. will have to play a delicate balancing act here, Carol. On the one hand, they are seeking support and help from Uzbekistan, but on the other side, they will have to keep this country's human rights abusers under check -- Carol.

LIN: Alessio, I'm just wondering if you know the nature of the discussions between U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Uzbekistan's president? Likely the Defense Secretary wants to use their former Russian air bases, but as I understand it, the president of Uzbekistan wants guarantees that this is not going to be an extended battle that will be using Uzbekistani ground.

VINCI: That is correct, Carol. And I think the major concern here is that if there were, for example, a 10 or 15 days military campaign against Afghanistan and there an all-out war would break out there, then the United States would not remain engaged in this region for many months to come. And the Uzbekis here are fearing that there could be some reprisals from the IMU or other terrorist groups who have been trying to unseat this government for quite sometime now coming from Afghanistan into Uzbekistan. And therefore, the Uzbekis here are trying very much to make sure that if indeed they will cooperate -- fully cooperate, as the U.S. are requesting with the U.S. fight against terrorism, they also want to make sure that the United States and its coalition allies will also protect Uzbekistan if insurgence would have to come here and try to destabilize the region and indeed this country.

LIN: All right. Thank you very much. Alessio Vinci reporting live from Uzbekistan.

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