Questions Linger Over Bodies

APKhamid Urinbayev, whose son Aibek was killed in the May 13 bloodshed, speaking to an AP reporter in Andijan.
ANDIJAN, Uzbekistan -- Khamid Urinbayev didn't recognize the bloated corpse of his youngest son after it lay for three days at the morgue. Finally, the 23-year-old was identified from his documents, one of the victims of a spasm of bloodshed that has put President Islam Karimov on the defensive.

It is still not clear how many people died in the May 13 upheaval that began with protests in this eastern city over the prosecution of businessmen charged with being sympathizers of Islamic extremists.

The government says 169 people were killed, most of them Islamic rebels and soldiers. Critics contend hundreds more died, and residents charge that many were unarmed civilians, including women and children. Karimov has stonewalled Western calls for an international investigation.

Aibek Urinbayev, who sold flour at the bazaar, had no history of political involvement and was on his way to check on his parents when he was shot in the abdomen, his family says.

"For three days he lay on the ground. These are people, not animals," the 65-year-old father said angrily at his home in Andijan. "If they hadn't found me, maybe they would just have buried him anywhere."

Urinbayev was one of about a half-dozen people who said in interviews with The Associated Press that relatives killed May 13 were innocent civilians. Many of those victims were young men, but no family admitted to any tie to the uprising. Details of those interviews were lost when plainclothes officers confiscated the AP reporter's notebook after physically threatening him.

Urinbayev's son found his final resting place at the city's Buzton Cemetery. But it remains a mystery what happened to many of the other dead.

An AP reporter over several days visited 16 cemeteries -- lying in overgrown fields on hillsides, behind makeshift brick walls and past iron gates -- but found just 61 graves that cemetery workers said belonged to victims of the violence.

There was no large concentration of May 13 dead at any cemetery in Andijan except for one, Bogi Shamol. The caretaker there said government workers came to bury 37 bodies in a nearby field without revealing their identities beyond saying they were young men.

At other cemeteries there were at most a handful of dead from the unrest buried beneath fresh mounds of dirt adorned with pebbles and flowers -- and teapots and cups to pay tribute to the dead with items used while they were alive.

The city burial office said Friday that 26 funerals had been recorded for those killed May 13, adding that others might have been interred in the surrounding region or that their bodies could still be at the morgue. Plainclothes security officers surround the morgue, refusing to allow reporters to speak with officials.

Andijan death certificates obtained by the AP were marked with numbers reaching as high as 328 issued May 14, 304 on May 15 and 279 on May 16. But it was unclear if those numbers corresponded with tallies of the dead -- and if so, whether they reflected cumulative daily totals, which would seem to support opposition claims of hundreds killed. Some Uzbek regional offices that record births and deaths issue certificates numbered according to the total of deaths counted from the beginning of each year.

Uzbekistan's top prosecutor has said 169 people were killed, including 32 government soldiers. He said nearly all the remaining dead were Islamic militants. The few civilians who died were killed by militants, Uzbek officials say.

Nigara Khidoyatova, head of the Free Peasants party, said workers from her group recorded 745 killed. However, despite repeated requests from journalists, Khidoyatova provided a list of only 43 names without addresses or any contact details, making it impossible to confirm the alleged deaths.

Her list included women and children -- a claim repeated by residents.

Abdukadyr Sattarov, a rights activist in Andijan, said a day after the unrest that 15 bodies of children aged between 6 and 10 were still lying on the street about one kilometer from the square where the shooting started. In the same place, there were 30 to 50 dead women and about 100 bodies of men, five or six in uniforms, he said.

According to an AP reporter and other journalists at the scene, about 10 bodies could be seen on the main square on the day of the crackdown.

Given the lack of information, rumors about the dead are rampant. Many residents repeated claims that at least three trucks were seen hauling bodies away, but only at one cemetery did workers confirm a truck had deposited corpses.

Urinbayev said his son was returning from the bazaar when the violence erupted. Aibek stopped at home to check on his wife and then headed for his parents' home but never arrived, the father said. The family brought Aibek's body home May 16 -- receiving death certificate No. 279 -- but the stench of decay was so bad after laying outside in the morgue's courtyard for three days that they held the funeral after just a few hours.

As they mourned Sunday, Aibek's mother, Minajad, clutched a photo from his obligatory military service, crying, "My dear son, my poor dear son." His 21-year-old wife cradled their 9-month-old baby.