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Central Asia Report: April 28, 2006


28 April 2006, Volume 6, Number 14

WEEK AT A GLANCE (April 17-23). Kazakhstan's National Security Committee announced 10 arrests and the break-up of a terror group planning attacks on "places where people congregate and vital facilities." The announcement described the group's goal as to "spread a radical religious ideology and gradually prepare the population for the need to set up a caliphate," but it provided no additional detail. President Nursultan Nazarbaev warned of an "overheated" economy and urged government agencies to limit expenditures to keep inflation down. Elsewhere, Nazarbaev observed the close of a three-stage military exercise involving over 6,000 troops. Deputy Defense Minister Bulat Sembinov told a visiting NATO delegation that 3,000 aircraft from NATO countries and nations in the antiterrorist coalition have used Kazakhstan's airspace since the start of operations in Afghanistan. And the removal of Galym Dosken as chairman of the board at the state-controlled radio and television corporation Kazakhstan sparked a staff walk-out.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev warned that Kyrgyzstan will consider ending its 2001 bilateral agreement on the U.S. military base in the country unless negotiations on a new agreement are ended by June 1. In response, the U.S. Embassy expressed a readiness to complete the talks. Political parties and NGOs planned for an April 29 demonstration to call for immediate constitutional reform and resolute efforts to fight crime and corruption. President Bakiev debated his critics on national television, but opposition leaders came away saying that they did not feel a real exchange of views had taken place. And Almazbek Atambaev, head of the Social Democratic Party, resigned as minister of industry, trade, and tourism to protest the government's inability to enact reforms. He said he would join in the April 29 rally.

Tajik Interior Minister Humdin Sharifov announced that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) was responsible for two explosions in Dushanbe last year that claimed one life. Police said that an arms cache discovered in the Zarafshan Valley may also belong to the IMU. In an address to parliament, President Imomali Rakhmonov blasted officials for corruption and urged them to declare their assets, asking parliament to draft a law providing amnesty to individuals who legally declare property and other holdings. Rakhmonov also promised a free and democratic presidential election in November. He did not say whether he will run, but he is widely expected to participate after a 2003 referendum made it possible for him to stay in power until 2020 if he continues to be reelected.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov told his cabinet that the country should produce 10 million tons of oil and 80 million cubic meters of natural gas in 2006, an increase on 2005 production figures of 9.5 million tons of oil and 63 billion cubic meters of gas. And Russia and Turkmenistan completed the first round of negotiations on future purchases, with an initial understanding that Russia will buy 50 million cubic meters of natural gas each year for the next three years. Future talks will focus on the price and delivery conditions.

Uzbekistan's Interior Ministry issued a strongly worded denial of recent allegations about torture in Uzbekistan by the UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak. Undeterred, Nowak repeated the charge days later, saying that "systematic torture" remains a problem in Uzbekistan. Against this backdrop, Craig Murray, the United Kingdom's former ambassador to Uzbekistan, told a European Parliament committee that the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany have received information obtained under torture from Uzbekistan's intelligence agencies. Murray charged that Germany may be continuing the practice. And the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that Kazakhstan, Russia, the United States, Uzbekistan, and the IAEA completed a secret mission to transport 63 kilograms of highly enriched spent uranium from Uzbekistan to Russia. The operation was an example of U.S.-Uzbek cooperation at a time of strained relations that Jon Purnell, U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan, called "especially important."

KAZAKH CLAIMS OF TERRORIST NETWORK UNSETTLE ACTIVISTS. The National Security Committee of Kazakhstan claims it has uncovered a terrorist plot targeting the country's infrastructure that was being orchestrated from abroad. The committee member in charge of countering international terrorism, Sergei Minenkov, announced on April 19 that a major security operation cracked a "criminal gang set up for terrorist activities" that was also monitoring Kyrgyz political activities. But his suggestion that the gang was closely following opposition groups has at least one such organization worried.

Minenkov's announcement has been interpreted by some as an attempt to convince Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev that the National Security Committee remains vigilant and effective. The president had made a vague public call on April 18 for security services to intensify efforts to ensure national security.

Minenkov said the operation led to 10 arrests, and that authorities found weapons along with books and tapes promoting radical religious views. Group members were also tasked with recruiting Kazakh citizens and setting up bases for training militants, he said.

Foreign Backing

Minenkov said searches in the commercial capital, Almaty, also uncovered letters from foreign-based organizers offering instructions on potential targets. "Foreign ideologists of terrorism recommended attacking public places and [strategically important] infrastructure facilities," he claimed.

Minenkov said other documents included instructions for making explosive devices and maps of potential targets. He didn't single out any particular group, but he did make a reference to the recent trial of members of the outlawed Zhamaat Mujahedin of Central Asia.

Opposition Fears

But Minenkov's claim that the terrorist ring was set up in part to monitor opposition activities sent a different message to the administration's already beleaguered political opponents.

Minenkov was careful to avoid saying that any opposition party or movement was involved with the alleged terrorists. But some members of the For a Just Kazakhstan movement regard his comments as an attempt to link the opposition to terrorism.

For a Just Kazakhstan's Serikbai Alibaev stressed that there are no grounds for such a conclusion and called for an investigation of the National Security Committee. "The [National Security Committee's] accusation against the opposition -- that it could have joined [the terrorist group] -- is nothing less than blame based on nothing," he said. "According to our laws and the constitution, law-enforcement agencies immediately should open a case against [the National Security Committee] and start an investigation. They should be brought to court for saying that -- they are violating our constitution."

The movement's Zauresh Battalova hinted that the National Security Committee was following instructions to discredit the opposition. "The [National Security Committee] is a tool in the hands of the authorities," she said. "Today, the [National Security Committee] is following the authorities' order to discredit those who really care about people [in order] to stop them."

Doubts Of Their Own

Battalova countered with her own accusations against the National Security Committee. She alluded to the recent killings of two opposition leaders, and the resignation of former Security Committee Chairman Nurtai Dutbaev after six officers from the National Security Committee's special Arystan unit were arrested over the killing of Ak Zhol co-Chairman Altynbek Sarsenbaev in February.

"It's the [National Security Committee] that should be brought to justice," Battalova said. "They have to answer for their activities, the activities of the [special] Arystan unit, and the deaths of Altynbek [Sarsenbaev] and Zamanbek [Nurkadilov]. Problems cannot be solved by Dutbaev's resignation alone."

Kazakhstan has apprehended terrorists before. But in those cases, they were suspects sought by Russia or Uzbek authorities. Minenkov's revelation that a terrorist group was operating in Kazakhstan, intent on carrying out attacks there, represents a new and potentially disturbing chapter for Kazakhs.

(By Bruce Pannier, with Edige Magauin of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service. Originally published on April 20.)

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT DEBATES OPPOSITION CRITICS ON TELEVISION. Top Kyrgyz government officials led by President Kurmanbek Bakiev met on April 19 on television with leaders of opposition groups to discuss the political course of the country. Tensions have been rising in Kyrgyzstan lately, fueled by a growing perception the government is not fulfilling promises to implement needed reforms. There are also concerns about the influence of criminal groups on the government. With that as a backdrop, Bakiev and his team took to the air today to try to ease the situation.

Sitting beside President Bakiev during the talks with opposition leaders were Prime Minister Feliks Kulov and parliament speaker Marat Sultanov. On the opposition's side were former parliament speaker Omurbek Tekebaev, parliament members Kubatbek Baibolov and Melis Eshimkanov, and several other political party and NGO leaders. The televised talks took place one day after the Union of Democratic Forces -- comprised of some 50 political parties and NGOs -- established a special headquarters to organize an opposition rally.

There have been almost nonstop protests in Kyrgyzstan since Bakiev came to power in March 2005. At first, protests were limited to calling on the government to recognize the plight of those ignored before Askar Akaev was ousted from office in what some call the People's Revolution that March. But increasingly protests are targeting Bakiev and Kulov. Bakiev said today the protests would not distract him from his chosen course.

Speaking Defiantly

"If someone thinks it's so easy to shake the president -- who has been working for less than one year -- with rallies and so on, they will all fail," he said.

And the Kyrgyz president portrayed himself as a man who knows how the people in his country feel and that most are appreciate of what Bakiev and his government are doing.

"I know not only what those people who organize all these [protests] think but also what common people think: old and young people, women, etc. I know it very well," he added. "And they know perfectly well what I am doing and what the government is going today to improve life in Kyrgyzstan."

Pressed on the delays that have occurred in calling for a referendum on constitutional reforms, Bakiev turned the table on former parliamentary speaker Tekebaev.

President Blames The Accuser

"Why didn't we start the constitutional reform immediately?" Bakiev said. "A constitutional council was established hastily at the initiative of the former parliament speaker [Tekebaev], who is sitting here now. And what was the result of that? A long discussion and many disparate opinions."

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service spoke with Tekebaev and Baibolov after the program. Tekebaev indicated he was "not satisfied with the outcome of this meeting because [Bakiev] should have explicitly responded to those real public issues and should have presented his own specific proposals and ways of resolving [issues]," he said. "I thought he would launch new directions of reforms. However, regrettably, he confined himself to whitewashing [his policy] and accusing some [opposition] movements."

Uninformed President?

Baibolov said he felt Bakiev was poorly informed about the issues in society being discussed. "I got the impression that [Bakiev] is unaware, to a large extent, of the real state of affairs," he added. "Perhaps he is not informed about everything. There is no real growth in the economy. Neither statistics nor the government denies that. There is no reform under way. I talked about it in my statement. There is no reform of administrative and territorial division. There is neither administrative reform, nor judicial reform, nor tax reform under way. Business is still not free, [the situation is] as it was before. The courts still do not provide due justice."

The televised talks took place one day after the Union of Democratic Forces -- compromised of some 50 political parties and NGOs -- established a special headquarters to organize an opposition rally. They hope the April 29 rally will gather more than 10,000 people.

The union is also calling for the dismissal of several top government officials, among them the head of the National Security Service, Tashtemir Aitbaev; the head of the presidential administration, Usen Sydykov; State Secretary Dastan Sarygulov; and Prosecutor-General Kambaraaly Kongantiev.

(By Bruce Pannier, with Tynchtykbek Tchoroev and Venera Djumataeva of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. Originally published on April 19.)

U.S. LIST OF GUANTANAMO DETAINEES HAS SOME SURPRISES. Compelled by a U.S. court, the Pentagon has released a new, more extensive list of detainees being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorist suspects in Cuba. Some 558 names were included on the list. Countries with the largest number of citizens, ranked in descending order, are Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Yemen. For the first time, the U.S. military confirmed it is holding Muhammad al-Qahtani, a Saudi citizen who is alleged to have been planning to participate in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

On April 20, RFE/RL spoke with John Daly, a UPI news agency international correspondent and a contributing editor on terrorism to "Vanity Fair" magazine, about the list.

RFE/RL: You have been following developments at the Guantanamo Bay facility closely for some years. Did the new list surprise you in any way?

John Daly: The general numbers are from my own research about where I thought they were. But I'm surprised to see nine Libyans, an Azeri, an Iranian, an Ethiopian. But otherwise, [the] numbers largely coincide with my own work.

RFE/RL: What about the large number of Central Asians?

Daly: For me, as a former Soviet specialist, it's of extreme interest that while I noted a couple of years ago there were 11 Tajiks there, they currently list six, five Uzbeks, three Kazakhs, and one Azeri.

RFE/RL: Had the Kazakhs been known about before?

Daly: I knew about the Kazakhs, and the Kazakh Embassy maintains these people were engaged in humanitarian work and were simply swept up in the dragnet.

RFE/RL: And the Uzbeks?

Daly: Of course, a country like Uzbekistan, while I'm sure that behind the scenes they are discreetly asking for the return of their nationals, have no great desire to publicize the fact that these individuals are there.

RFE/RL: But their identities are well-known to Uzbek authorities?

Daly: My own impression from talking to security officials in Tashkent is yes, they are fairly capable, and they are fairly aware of militants outside their borders.

RFE/RL: In March, the Pentagon released a list with 517 names and yesterday [April 19] they released a list with 558 names. Does that mean that 41 new names have been added or is the list constantly changing?

Daly: It's interesting that you ask that, because, of course, all the material on who comes in and who leaves is classified. There do seem to have been more people shuffled in, but, of course, as you know from your own research, the Pentagon and the Bush administration are discreetly attempting to release a number of people there, most prominently, perhaps, the Chinese Uyghurs. And unfortunately for the Bush administration, they have yet to find a government that will take them. So this is a number in flux.

RFE/RL: How do you interpret the large number of Yemenis? Can we draw conclusions from this number about terrorism in Yemen?

Daly: I talked to someone at the Yemeni Embassy when I was doing my research and they said that the numbers that they have been given were inaccurate. They thought they were higher. The major problem seems to be that Guantanamo is not the terrorism supermax. Hambali [an Indonesian-born terrorist leader] does not seem to be there [and] a number of others. The Bush administration has detention centers far beyond Guantanamo -- reputedly there is one on Diego Garcia called Camp Justice. People have been held at Bagram [Air Base in Afghanistan]. We've read about the rendition flights through Europe and Eastern Europe. So it's a shell game to a certain extent.

RFE/RL: So not everyone being held on Guantanamo is necessarily a terrorist?

Daly: On the one hand, they are saying these are the worst of the worst, to paraphrase [U.S. Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld. And yet, on the other hand, advocates for the detainees indicate that anywhere from two-thirds to four-fifths of them are simply people caught up in the misfortunes of war. Certainly, some of the recent people liberated, such as the Brits, have indicated that there was simply, when the U.S. went in, a bounty-hunter arrangement. People were fingered, and money changed hands. And the next thing they knew, they were in Cuba.

(By Julie A. Corwin. Originally published on April 21.)

POLITICS ENTERS THE MIX IN OFFICIAL RUSSIAN RESPONSE TO MURDERS. Russian officialdom has now thrown itself into the fight against racist violence. Against a mounting backdrop of xenophobic murders and attacks, authorities have sought to beat back the hate. But the campaign has a political subtext that raises questions about its real goals. Moreover, the most widespread abuses that afflict ethnic and other minorities in Russia are continuing unabated.

This year has seen a rash of racially motivated incidents. On January 11, 20-year-old Aleksandr Koptsev stabbed eight people in a Moscow synagogue. On February 5, a man from Mali was stabbed to death in St. Petersburg, where in late 2005 a student from Cameroon and an antifascist activist suffered the same fate in separate attacks. On March 25, assailants beat and stabbed a 9-year-old mixed-race girl in St. Petersburg. On April 1, Zaur Tutov, a cultural official from Russia's North Caucasus region, was beaten in Moscow by a group of young men shouting nationalist slogans. And on April 7, Samba Lampsar Sall, a Senegalese student, was shot to death in St. Petersburg by an unknown attacker who left a shotgun emblazoned with a swastika at the scene of the crime.

The attacks garnered high-profile coverage in the Russia media. And officials, who frequently downplay the dangers of racist violence, have taken action.

On March 22, a jury in St. Petersburg found seven defendants guilty only of "hooliganism" in the 2004 stabbing death of a 9-year-old Tajik girl, Khursheda Sultonova, acquitting an eighth defendant. But this time, prosecutors appealed what critics derided as a typical example of lax prosecution of hate crimes in Russia. In the Tutov case, federal prosecutors stepped in to request that hate-crime charges be filed despite the initial assessment by Moscow prosecutors that it was a run-of-the-mill incident. Members of the recently created consultative body, the Public Chamber, warned at an April 14 meeting that "the problem of racial intolerance in the country has recently acquired particular urgency," Channel One reported.

Mixed Messages

But some official actions in the fight against violent xenophobia have sent an oddly mixed message.

Some in the opposition have dismissed as a publicity stunt an "antifascist pact" signed by a number of political parties in February. Signatories had included Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), which has effectively mixed xenophobic rhetoric in the public arena with pro-Kremlin votes in parliament for years. Opposition Yabloko First Deputy Chairman Sergei Ivanenko said that another signatory -- -- the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party -- had not taken "any concrete steps aimed at combating fascism and xenophobia."

Meanwhile, seemingly sanctioned "antifascist" rhetoric -- particularly as trumpeted by the Kremlin-sponsored youth movement Nashi (Us) -- has tended to fixate on vocal foes of the Kremlin. That has deepened doubts about the campaign's sincerity. A May 2005 brochure published by Nashi charged that "bankrupt 'liberals and democrats' today support avowed Nazis," citing as examples the well-known liberal politician Irina Khakamada, head of the Our Choice party, and Yabloko. Nashi implied a similar linkage in a March 2006 brochure. Asked by "Novye izvestia" on April 17 why Nashi described her as a fascist, Khakamada responded, "That's the PR concept Nashi is working with. They're fascists themselves, but so that no one notices this, they accuse people with democratic views of this and label them. It's aimed at idiots."

Nashi itself has been linked to football hooligan organizations noted for their street-fighting proclivities and ties to avowedly xenophobic skinhead groups. Gazeta.ru reported on April 4 that Nashi organizer Aleksei Mitryushin was the leader of the Gallant Steeds fan club (affiliated with Moscow's CSKA football team), while fellow Nashists Roman Verbitsky and Vasily Stepanov headed the Gladiator fan club (affiliated with Moscow's Spartak football team). According to gazeta.ru, all three were present at a meeting of Nashi "commissars," as the movement dubs its ringleaders, and Vladislav Surkov, a close Putin aide, in July 2005. At the same time, Mitryushin, Verbitsky, and Stepanov were on file with the Moscow militia unit charged with keeping track of football hooligans and skinheads, gazeta.ru stated.

The Nashi-football ties may be more than incidental. Nashi opponents charged that the movement used its connections with the soccer thug underworld to mobilize two dozen bat-wielding heavies for an August 29, 2005, attack on anti-Kremlin youth activists, including members of the radical National Bolshevik Party (itself no stranger to fascist leanings, particularly in the 1990s). For their part, official representatives of Nashi denied any link to the attack.

Nevertheless, Nashi leader Vasily Yakemenko told provincial youth in 2005 that he would have enlisted soccer thugs to "sort out" the political demonstrations that rocked Kyiv in late 2004, "Moskovsky komsomolets" reported on August 31, 2005. Yakemenko said, "I would have contacted my colleagues in the Spartak soccer fan movement and they would have assembled 5,000 of their supporters with those blue plastic seats that they bang in the stadiums...and they would have used the seats to chase the 100,000 who came out on the Maidan [central square in Kyiv] to the Dnepr [River]."

'A Democratic Antifascist Movement'

Yakemenko's reported comment reflects the Kremlin's allergic reaction to Ukraine's Orange Revolution, and skeptics charge that Nashi, which bills itself as a "democratic antifascist movement," and the official antifascist campaign in general are really intended as a prop for the Kremlin's political designs. Sova Center, which tracks xenophobic and extremist attacks and sentiments in Russia, wrote in an analytical note on April 4 that the official antifascist campaign's aim is "to distract Russian society from a mood of social protest and to discredit the political opposition in the lead-up to elections." Nikita Belykh, the head of the liberal party Union of Rightist Forces, told "Novye izvestia" on March 3: "The authorities today need fascists. They need them so that in 2007 and 2008 they can offer the country a simple choice: black or white, us or them, the 'right party' or the 'fascists.'"

Dangerous Divides

Political maneuvering aside, Russia is a richly multiethnic society with a potentially dangerous capacity for xenophobic conflicts. One divide runs between Christian ethnic Russians and the primarily Muslim peoples of the North Caucasus, where the Chechen conflict continues to simmer at a low boil. Another sizable, identifiable minority comprises migrants -- most of them from Central Asia and the Caucasus. A recent UN study released found that Russia in 2005 was home to the second-largest number of migrants in the world -- 12.1 million.

Racist violence is one of many perils that face migrant workers in Russia. The murder of 9-year-old Sultonova in what many believe was a racist attack garnered considerable media attention despite the St. Petersburg court's "hooliganism" verdict. But as Davlat Khudonazarov, a filmmaker and former presidential candidate in Tajikistan, wrote in "Izvestia" on March 24, hundreds of Tajik migrant workers in Russia each year "die on construction sites, the roads, [or] fall victim to skinheads, crime, and the police."

Statistics vary on the numbers of deaths. Tajikistan's Interior Ministry stated that 246 Tajik citizens died in Russia in the first 11 months of 2005, utro.ru reported on December 3, 2005, with 115 succumbing to illness, 99 killed in accidents, 36 murdered, and six cases unresolved. Khudonazarov put the number of Tajiks who die in Russia each year at 600-700. An April 5 report by Russia's TV-Tsentr claimed that "each year more than 2,000 migrant workers return to Tajikistan in coffins." Karomat Sharipov, head of the Tajik League, told TV-Tsentr: "On the way from Domodedovo Airport in Moscow in 2003, 125 Tajiks vanished. Look at the distance -- it's 22 kilometers. This is real. It happens every day."

The collapse of a Moscow market on February 23 vividly illustrated the prevalence of migrant labor in the lower echelons of the Russian economy. After the disaster, the Emergency Situations Ministry announced that the 66 dead included 45 Azerbaijanis, eight Georgians, six Tajiks, three Uzbeks, and three Russian citizens, globalrus.ru reported on February 26. Earlier that month, 12 Tajiks died in two separate fires in Russia, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported.

Migrants and minorities are vulnerable communities, and recent events indicate that this is especially true in Russia. Racism and xenophobia may be the most disturbing of the threats they face, but police corruption, spotty medical care, inadequately defended rights, and an aging infrastructure take a heavier toll.

Official efforts to raise awareness of hate crimes are a positive development, despite the subtext of political chicanery. If these efforts are genuine, perhaps they will extend to the less media-friendly -- but more pervasive -- ills that pose as great a danger to the Russian majority as they do to the migrants and minorities who are targeted by racists and xenophobes.

(By Daniel Kimmage. Originally published on April 24.)

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