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Kyrgyzstan: Foreign Minister Defends Ties With Tashkent --> Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Alikbek Jekshenkulov (file photo) (RFE/RL) BISHKEK, August 30, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Alikbek Jekshenkulov was interviewed by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service in Bishkek on August 29. Jekshenkulov addressed such topics as Kyrgyz-Uzbek relations, the plight of Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan, and territorial and energy issues.

RFE/RL: Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are trying to find ways to improve their relations. Some say that one of the reasons for that is a necessity to fight religious extremism in Kyrgyzstan. How do you assess the improved relations between these two countries?

Alikbek Jekshenkulov: Foreign policy is carried out, not only that but a policy is carried out, in the interests of the state. Our nation and the whole society are saying -- and also the international community are saying -- that we have to have good relations with our neighbors. There were a lot of situations, and a lot of reasons in the past [for some shortcomings in these relations].

Recently, our president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, held three or four meeting with Uzbek President Islam Karimov and after these negotiations a new stage began in bilateral ties [between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan]. That is why I think there will be some positive results in the coming years. Of course, it would be difficult to say that all troubles will be solved [in a short time], but we have hope. In any case, our two nations have been finding a common language.

RFE/RL: What kind of questions will Kyrgyzstan ask during the upcoming visit of President Bakiev to Uzbekistan at the end of September, and what type of cooperation with Tashkent is in Kyrgyzstan's national interest?

Jekshenkulov: We think one of the major issues is to maintain a constant dialogue between the two countries and continue to support each other. The Ferghana Valley is a densely populated area. There are a lot of very important issues between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, whether they are political, economic, or humanitarian issues. We are starting to deal with all of these major problems, and we are starting to understand each other.

That is why I believe President Bakiev's visit at the end of September will be fruitful. First of all, among political matters, the visa problem is a big issue. Second, we have to discuss the border issues, and third there are terrorism and religious-extremism issues.... In any case, we have a lot of problems in every field to deal with.

RFE/RL: Regarding the border issues, it is reported that 1,043 of 2,195 kilometers of the common border have been delimited and this delimitation is expected to be approved. Please tell me how negotiations on the disputed strips of the border will be carried out.

Jekshenkulov: We've reached a common opinion that the border issue must be resolved step-by-step. If there is no dispute regarding the 1,043-kilometer borderline then we should just decide on its legal status. And the special commissions have to continue to work on the other [disputed] sections. The members of the [Kyrgyz] commission have to protect every single meter, every kilometer. As you know, we don't have a big population and we don't have a huge territory either. That's why we are ready to protect our national interests.

RFE/RL: You touched upon the national interests, but there are issues like water reservoirs, like Kempirabat, built on Kyrgyz territory [but claimed by Uzbekistan]. The status of these reservoirs is unclear even now and Uzbekistan continues to keep them under their jurisdiction. Will there be a chance to raise this issue, to return it to Kyrgyzstan?

Jekshenkulov: I will stress that there are a lot of issues to be raised, that is why it is hard to say that everything will be resolved by one visit. That's why in the first stage we will discuss very major, very important questions. After that we'll go to the others, like [Kempirabat]. If there will be warm political relations between the two countries I think these questions might be resolved.

RFE/RL: The international community is raising concerns about the deportation of five Uzbek refugees to Uzbekistan. The Prosecutor-General's Office returned them and local human rights campaigners are harshly criticizing this decision. Do you have any information from the Foreign Ministry regarding the further plight of these refugees?

Jekshenkulov: These deported people are Uzbekistan's citizens. That's why this is not our matter. We have to consider the plight of Kyrgyzstan's citizens. This is not a political question, this is a legal question. Appeals by those five people were considered by courts, starting from the district court to the high court, and the Kyrgyz courts did not give them refugee status.

Of course, we are continuing to maintain Kyrgyzstan's image and we are continuing to meet our international commitments. There are human rights organizations that criticize us, but I would say last year when Kyrgyz authorities were in a very difficult situation we sent 439 Uzbek refugees to a third country. That's why I think our society has to support us.

If among them were people who cut the throat of the prosecutor-general and if these were people who were selling drugs before the Andijon events, that's why there were criminal cases against these five people. In such a situation how can the Prosecutor-General's Office decide differently? Everyone should understand this correctly.

RFE/RL: There are other concerns in Kyrgyzstan, for instance four Uzbek citizens recently disappeared from Kyrgyz territory. Such events happened at the beginning of the independence years. It was reported at that time that Uzbek special forces abducted them in Kyrgyzstan [and took them back to Uzbekistan]. Now the same practice is being repeated and there is further concern about Bishkek moving closer to such a dictatorial regime as Uzbekistan; people even fear that Kyrgyzstan might also follow the path of the Tashkent regime.

Jekshenkulov: I am surprised at the opinions of some of our politicians. If we don't have good relations with Uzbekistan they will complain, "why aren't you improving relations with Uzbekistan?!" Now, just as we are improving our relations with Tashkent they say, "won't we be like Uzbekistan?" I don't support such criticism.

Every former Soviet republic has chosen its own path since becoming independent. Uzbekistan has chosen its own way, we have to respect this but we also have our own path. If there is cooperation between the security services of these two countries regarding security matters, is it bad?

As you know, not only Kyrgyzstan but also the major leading states in the world are not able to fight terrorism alone. That is why we have to cooperate with the whole international community and with our neighbors in this matter and we are carrying out this mission.

Regarding the latest abduction of the Uzbek citizens, we don't have any information about [what you claim]. These might be rumors. In this matter our security services are continuing their investigation.

RFE/RL: There is another difficult problem connected to the water and energy system: Uzbekistan declined to buy Kyrgyz electricity. Will this issue be raised during the upcoming visit by Bakiev to resolve it in both country's interests?

Jekshenkulov: These water and energy issues are very complex. It is impossible to resolve them only between these two countries. This is a common regional problem because a common, united energy system was established during the Soviet era. If one party gives water, another will give gas, and a third will give electricity, and so on. This system was continued even after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

At the beginning of September in the [Kazakh] city of Astana, the presidents of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan will discuss these issues during their informal summit.... Our experts understand everything, the task is obvious for them. We will protect our national interests, we won't give up anything.

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