The UN Security Council has expressed unanimous support for withdrawing the small UN observer mission from Tajikistan in two months. Council members yesterday repeatedly cited the country's first multiparty parliamentary elections last month as the basis for its decision. But speakers also called upon the international community to continue to assist the country. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.
United Nations, 22 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Security Council members stopped short of calling Tajikistan a stable democracy yesterday but there was a strong consensus that the former Soviet republic had made great strides to statehood.
The UN assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, Hedi Annabi, told the council of clear progress made in carrying out the 1997 peace accord. That agreement ended a five-year civil war between forces of the government, backed by Russia, and fighters of the United Tajik Opposition, an alliance of mostly Islamic groups, some of which had been operating from bases in neighboring Afghanistan.
Annabi said the transition period since the fighting ended has been difficult, with numerous flareups of violence. But the holding of parliamentary elections on February 27, in which several parties participated, was cited as a landmark development.
"The Tajik parties did manage to overcome the obstacles and put the country on the path to national reconciliation and peace."
Annabi pointed out that a mission of international election observers found a number of flaws in last month's elections. Among the irregularities cited was a high rate of proxy voting and a large number of ballots cast without proper identification. Security Council members took note of these problems even as they endorsed the Secretary-General's plan to withdraw the UN mission on May 15.
Council members encouraged Tajik authorities to follow proper electoral practices in elections planned for the 33-member upper chamber of parliament tomorrow (March 23).
The representative for the U.S. mission, Minister Counselor Mark Minton, said the Tajik government needs to assure ordinary citizens of their right to political representation.
"We hope the government in particular as this process proceeds will ensure that all groups within the country will feel that they have a voice as well as a stake in the political system of the country."
For the Security Council, yesterday's session provided a rare recent opportunity to close out a peacekeeping mission with a degree of satisfaction. The UN has maintained a mission in Tajikistan since December 1994. It consists of only about 40 military observers plus support staff but was seen as providing steady international input and guidance, first as a monitor of a ceasefire and then to help implement the 1997 accord.
Russia still leads a CIS peacekeeping force of about 20,000 that mostly guards Tajikistan's borders with Afghanistan and helps oversee the ceasefire.
And for Russia and Ukraine, the two former Soviet republics on the Security Council, Tajikistan's elections were a milestone.
Ukraine's ambassador to the UN, Volodymyr Yelchenko, told the council that the transformation of Tajikistan, in which an armed opposition turned in guns and joined the political process, was extraordinary.
"This remarkable decision testifies that Tajik society took the way to democracy and it should be regarded as solid ground for further development of the society. Without any exaggeration we may say this is an outstanding event which will have a positive impact on the security environment in the whole region of Central Asia."
Secretary-General Kofi Annan has begun consultations with the Tajik government on a new role for the United Nations in the country's post-conflict peace-building period. Security Council members expressed support for a continued role and would await further word from Annan on continuing a UN presence in Tajikistan.