updated 11/23/2005 11:16:53 AM ET 2005-11-23T16:16:53

Uzbekistan has told NATO allies they can no longer use its territory or airspace to support peacekeeping missions in neighboring Afghanistan, an official of the alliance said Wednesday.

The official said, however, that alternatives would be found and the mission would not be hurt. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

On Monday, the U.S. military flew its last plane out from an air base in Uzbekistan that had been an important hub for American military operations in Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan’s hard-line President Islam Karimov in July ordered the U.S. troops to leave the air base within six months, after Washington joined international condemnation of a bloody government crackdown in the eastern city of Andijan that human rights groups say killed hundreds of civilians.

Uzbekistan became an important ally in the war on terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and granted permission for the United States to establish an air base in the country. Relations have progressively soured, amid U.S. concern over Karimov’s human rights record.

The U.S. and other Western countries harshly criticized Uzbekistan for using force against mostly unarmed civilians in Andijan on May 13. Rights groups said up to 750 people died in the crackdown. The government put the death toll at 187.

Karimov, who has ruled the Central Asian nation for 16 years and tolerates no dissent, blamed the violence on Islamic militants.

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