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EU delegation in Uzbekistan for closed-door talks

Written by: Staff
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TASHKENT, Oct 24 (Reuters) A European Union delegation was in Uzbekistan today on a rare, discreet visit, diplomats said, just weeks after the EU hinted it might ease sanctions against the reclusive Central Asian state.

Brussels suspended high-level contacts with Uzbekistan and imposed restrictions on military sales after the West accused the country of using indiscriminate force to quash a revolt in the town of Andizhan in May 2005.

But in a sign its policy of Uzbek isolation might be over, the EU said this month it might consider reviewing the sanctions following talks with Uzbek officials.

Today, a Western diplomat told Reuters a delegation led by Pierre Morel, EU Special Representative for Central Asia, was in Tashkent for talks.

A source at the Uzbek Foreign Ministry confirmed this, adding Morel had already met Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov. The source gave no further details.

EU officials have said they wanted to try a policy of more dialogue and engagement with Uzbekistan after a year and a half of isolation yielded no significant results.

Restoring contacts with the West would be a boon for Uzbekistan, a large gas producer which has portrayed itself as a victim of international terrorism misunderstood by the West.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov, criticised in the West for clamping down on dissent and press freedom, said the Andizhan revolt was planned by armed terrorists who wanted to topple him.

REUTERS BDP BD1818

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