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Uzbek pro-government fund accuses Danish aid group of espionage

Associated Press

An Uzbek government-backed fund on Friday accused a Danish aid agency of espionage, continuing a government crackdown on foreign-financed activities in the tightly controlled ex-Soviet state.

The Fund for Regional Politics accused the Danish Refugee Council and its partner non-governmental organizations of "purposefully collecting espionage data" on the Ferghana valley, according to a statement posted on a government Web site.

It alleged that detailed maps with poorly guarded border crossings, checkpoints and roads the Danish group compiled have been ordered by foreign intelligence and used by Islamic militants.

At the aid group's international office in Copenhagen, Ann Mary Olsen said, "We're, of course, not spies," adding the Uzbek government was very suspicious of NGOs.

The Danish Refugee Council, one of Denmark's largest aid groups, works in more than 20 hotspots on three continents.

The Danish group has established "The Valley of Peace," a network of local non-governmental organizations working throughout the Ferghana valley, an overpopulated and impoverished region unevenly shared among three Central Asian states.

Since the Soviet collapse in 1991 the Ferghana valley has been an area of ethnic tensions and growing Islamic fundamentalism.

Mass protests in the valley's largest city, Andijan, were brutally put down by Uzbek government troops in May 2005. Rights groups and witnesses said hundreds of protesters, most of them peaceful, died. The government put the death toll at 187 and said Islamic militants had sparked the violence.

Facing Western criticism, President Islamic Karimov's government has unleashed a campaign against foreign aid groups and media, alleging they sided with terrorists and waged an "information war" on Uzbekistan.

In the past two years, dozens of foreign aid groups and media outlets have been closed down and expelled from the Central Asian state for alleged legal and financial crimes.

The Copenhagen-based Danish Refugee Council was established in 1956 to protect refugees and internally displaced people.

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