The 27-nation bloc imposed visa bans on senior Uzbek officials including the defence minister and national security chief after authorities in the former Soviet republic crushed a protest in the town of Andizhan in 2005, with heavy loss of life.
Germany has led a push to drop the sanctions, and last October EU foreign ministers agreed to suspend them for six months, while warning they would be automatically re-applied if there was not progress on human rights and democracy.
A statement drafted by EU ambassadors on Thursday and due to be rubber-stamped by foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg next Tuesday said the EU remained seriously concerned about the rights situation in Uzbekistan.
However, it welcomed progress, including abolition of the death penalty and the release of some human rights activists.
"(The EU Council decided that) visa restrictions for individuals...would not apply for another period of six months," said a draft of the statement made available to Reuters.
"After three months, the Council will review the progress made by the Uzbek authorities," it added.
"The Council will closely and continuously monitor and assess...the human rights situation in Uzbekistan and may lift, amend or reapply the visa restrictions as appropriate."
Rights groups had called on the EU not to allow the sanctions to lapse, as they are due to in October, without ensuring progress.
They say that while there have been some improvements, serious rights issues remain and Uzbekistan still has not ensured accountability for Andizhan -- the main reason the sanctions were imposed in the first place.
Witnesses say hundreds of people, including women and children, were killed when troops opened fire on unarmed protesters in the town in May 2005.
An EU diplomat said the compromise should keep both sides of the debate happy. "Everybody's pretty pleased -- we have conditionality," he said, using the EU term for making EU ties conditional on a third party fulfilling certain criteria.
Analysts say Germany is keen to protect interests in Uzbekistan, including a military base used to supply its troops stationed in Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission there.
Last Mod: 25 Nisan 2008, 09:15