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Central Asia: Kazakhs, Kyrgyz Opt For Stricter Security Measures

  • Bruce Pannier

The military action in Afghanistan has forced all nearby countries to strengthen their border security. Afghanistan's immediate neighbors to the north, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, have all done so, but so too have Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan further afield. Those two, which do not border Afghanistan, have initiated internal security measures that have led to the deportations of hundreds of people and strict limitation on movements across borders.

Prague, 17 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- With fighting raging across Afghanistan, the country's neighbors are worried about their own security. None want Afghanistan's problems spilling over onto their territories -- even in the form of refugees from the fighting.

Afghanistan's northern neighbors -- Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan -- are no exception. All three have taken actions since the 7 October launch of U.S.-led air strikes in Afghanistan to increase security along their Afghan borders.

But fear of incoming problems from Afghanistan is also affecting life in places as far afield as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Security has always been a priority for the former Soviet Central Asian states.

Incursions into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan by an armed group calling itself the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in 1999 and 2000 gave governments good reason to increase border security. The U.S. government links the IMU to suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan's Taliban militia, which shelters him.

The IMU's incursions led the Uzbek army last summer to plant landmines along the mountain paths on the country's borders with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The Uzbek-Kazakh and Uzbek-Turkmen borders were also reinforced.

Last week, Kazakhstan -- hundreds of kilometers from the Afghan border -- announced it had tightened security at facilities inside the country and reinforced its military presence on the border with Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan, in turn, started reconstructing checkpoints along part of its border with Kyrgyzstan -- the same check points Uzbekistan removed last year at the Kyrgyz government's request.

While such moves may have improved security, they have also limited freedom of movement for people living along borders and have had a detrimental impact on trade.

Shortly after the 11 September terrorist attacks in the U.S., Kazakh authorities began deporting Kyrgyz citizens who were traders at bazaars of the former Kazakh capital Almaty. By the end of last month, 700 traders had been expelled.

Kyrgyz bazaar trader Suyun MamyrAliyev tells RFE/RL that Kazakh authorities took steps to ensure the Kyrgyz did not return: "They [Kazakh authorities] detained me and put me in a special room with nine other people. I complained and they took my passport and tore it up. They caught a citizen of Uzbekistan and deported him to Kyrgyzstan also. They treated us like dogs."

MamyrAliyev said he left behind about 40 tons of goods in Kazakhstan and has no idea how to make up for the loss. His tale is similar to that of Asylbek Abdullaev, who was also detained with other fellow non-Kazakhs: "There were people with visas good until 20 December. They [Kazakh authorities] annulled the visas and these people were deported. There were Tajiks and Uzbeks, all citizens of Uzbekistan from Kara-Kalpakistan (western Uzbekistan). They were shipped across the border to Kyrgyzstan. No one has any idea where they are now."

As Abdullaev indicates, it was not only Kyrgyz who were being deported from Kazakhstan. Some Tajik citizens were also rounded up and shipped back to their homeland. Authorities in southern Kazakhstan's Zhambyl region boarded a Moscow-bound train about the same time the Kyrgyz citizens started being deported. They sent back 113 Tajik citizens who were traveling to Moscow seeking work.

An adviser to Kazakhstan's ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Nusup Sagadiev, said the deportations were for security reasons: "This is all connected with the situation in Afghanistan. We are tightening the passport and visa regime."

In Kyrgyzstan, meanwhile, authorities -- citing security concerns -- have also stepped up efforts to identify and deport illegal residents. By 2 October, Kyrgyz authorities had detained and expelled some 300 people, mostly Tajiks and Afghans. Some of the Afghans had been living in Kyrgyzstan for 20 years or more. And some of the so-called "Tajik citizens" were actually ethnic Kyrgyz who had lived in Tajikistan during the Soviet era and had fled during the Tajik civil war in the 1990s.

State control of the press makes it difficult to gather information about such matters in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

But restrictions on movement and deportations are becoming increasingly common throughout Central Asia, where hard times breed mutual suspicion and all too frequently lead to unilateral moves in the name of stability and security.

(The Kyrgyz and Kazakh services contributed to this report)