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Kazakh, Kirghiz Sales Mission Dominates Crans-Montana

  • Roland Eggleston

Crans-Montana , June 24 (RFE/RL) -- The Central Asian states of Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan used last week's international conference in the Swiss alpine resort of Montana-Crans to mount a strong campaign for western investment.

The presidents of both countries, Noursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan, and Askar Askaev of Kirghizstan, were accompanied by strong teams of economic advisors who held a constant stream of private meetings with potential investors, not only from Europe but also from Singapore, Japan and Iran.

Political developments were also discussed, but usually only to stress that each country offered the stability necessary to encourage investment.

A Swiss industrialist who held lengthy talks with both teams said the emphasis was on the production of gold and other minerals, energy in the form of oil, gas, coal and hydroelectric power, telecommunications and transport.

These were also the sectors stressed by Nazarbaev and Askaev in the open meetings which they conducted. The presidents held one joint meeting open to all in which they stressed the co-operation between their two countries, but also chaired individual meetings for their own country.

Askaev of Kirghizstan summed up the message presented by both countries when he told an audience of potential investors that his government was "doing everything in its power to create favorable conditions for foreign investment."

The Presidents were rewarded for their efforts with the 1996 prize of the international foundation which has sponsored the annual Crans-Montana conferences since 1989.

Kazakhstan's goals were indicated by the government ministers who came to Crans-Montana with the president -- the ministers of energy, communications, geology, petrol and gas, transport and communications and the president of the state committee for privatization.

The Kazakh delegation also included the economic minister, the finance minister, the foreign minister and the president of the national bank. The team was accompanied by several western advisors, who also helped with the translation problems.

Diplomats at the conference noted that both state presidents were active members of the selling team. "Neither sat back and left the work to others," said one official. "They were the top salesmen themselves."

The selling effort also included three hour-long sessions of live television coverage on a European-wide channel. The first was for a discussion on security in Central Asia, which was used to emphasize political stability in the region and the efforts to create co-operative ties with Russia, China and Turkey.

There was a live television broadcast about investment opportunities in Kazakhstan and a third live broadcast were awarded the 1996 prize of the international foundation which sponsors the Crans-Montana conference each year.

Neither country would disclose how successful the selling effort had been but spokesmen for each country said they were "satisfied."

Normally Crans-Montana has a stronger focus on political developments but this year those developments were too turbulent. The Russian elections prevented the attendance of Russian leaders and the European Union's conference in Florence deprived the conference of most leading west European politicians.

It was originally planned that the conference would begin with a face-to-face meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, but this fell apart with Peres' defeat in the elections and Arafat's need to attend the Arab summit conference in Cairo.

The biggest surprise of the conference came at a session on Albania hosted by that country's President Sali Berisha, who has been under fire for allegedly allowing gross irregularities in the recent elections which returned his party to power.

Berisha was accompanied by representatives of two international groups who had personally observed the elections. To the surprise of the conference, they declared that in their view, the Albanian elections had been free and fair and there was no substance to the allegations.

Another surprise came when their positive remarks were supported by the deputy chairman of the parliamentary assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE). The reason for the surprise is that many of the critical allegations about the elections came from another branch of the OSCE, which specializes in monitoring elections and sponsoring democracy.

The division within the OSCE over the Albanian elections is to be discussed at a meeting in Stockholm early in July.

The most prominent East European representative at the Crans-Montana conference was Bulgarian President Zheliu Zhelev, who took a prominent role in a seminar about the problems of anchoring democracy in Central Europe and also chaired a special session devoted to investment in Bulgaria.

Russia's former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev took an active part in discussions on the situation in Russia and concerns about investment there. His overall message was that the elections, and even the turbulence around them, showed that democracy was developing in Russia.

He expects Yeltsin to win the election and says Yeltsin and the former General Alexander Lebed could develop a partnership which would be good for the country.

Kozyrev's message final message to the conference was cheerfully upbeat: "I am going back to Russia tomorrow. Follow me and don't be late with your investments."