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Central Asia Report: September 2, 2005

2 September 2005, Volume 5, Number 33

WEEK AT A GLANCE (22-28 August). An affiliate of China National Petroleum Corporation lodged what had all the earmarks of a successful bid for Canadian-registered PetroKazakhstan, beating out an Indian joint venture with a $4.18 billion buyout offer and reportedly gaining high-level official approval from the Kazakh government. The prospect of a multibillion-dollar Chinese entrance into the Central Asian energy landscape set off a predictable round of commentary on an increasingly muscle-bound China's matching appetite for oil. Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council found two laws on NGOs recently passed by parliament to be unconstitutional. Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev visited Washington, where he had a friendly meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. President Nursultan Nazarbaev held a televized question-and-answer session, reiterating to viewers his intent to seek the presidency once again in the upcoming election. Though the Constitutional Council has said that ballot should be held in December 2005, Nazarbaev noted, "I have the right to veto [the decision], and I'm thinking it over now."

Kyrgyzstan found itself looking to Kazakhstan for natural-gas supplies when Uzbekistan unilaterally withdrew from a July agreement on gas shipments to Kyrgyzstan after the latter allowed the evacuation of 439 Uzbek refugees to Romania in late July. Former Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev returned to Kyrgyzstan from Russia, where he had been residing since demonstrations toppled President Askar Akaev on 24 March, and met with Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov to testify on a variety of corruption charges. Tanaev, who maintains his innocence, was released on his own recognizance as a number of current parliamentarians vouched for him. And President Kurmanbek Bakiev sacked Abdygul Chotbaev, commander of the National Guard; Aalybai Kayipov, deputy commander of border troops; and Toktokuchuk Mamytov, first deputy secretary of the National Security Service. Bakev canned the three for their failure to take decisive action against disturbances in Bishkek on 17 June.

A court in Dushanbe sentenced Mukhtor Boqizoda, editor in chief of the embattled independent newspaper "Nerui Sukhan," to two years of corrective labor for stealing electricity. Boqizoda charged that the court reached its verdict under pressure and vowed an appeal. Elsewhere, border guards downed a homemade "drug plane" fashioned from a parachute and small motor as it was ferrying 18 kilograms of heroin across the Tajik-Afghan border.

General John Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command, met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Turkmenistan. While the official agenda covered the usual regional security issues, rumors circulated in the Russian press that the trip might involve a search for new basing arrangements to replace the outgoing U.S. air base in Uzbekistan.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who skipped the week's CIS summit in Kazan, informed fellow post-Soviet states that Turkmenistan intends to scale back its already modest participation in the CIS to the level of an "associated member." At home, the indefatigable president kept up his personnel shake-ups, dismissing Construction Minister Amangeldy Rejepov and replacing him with Atamurad Berdyev, deputy prime minister in charge of construction, industry, and energy. Niyazov also appointed Aganiyaz Akyev, property manager in the presidential administration, as deputy prime minister and coordinator of relations with the CIS. And in the latest in a series of moves that have garnered Niyazov considerable publicity in the oddities section of world news reports, he banned lip-synching in concerts.

The impending closure of a bazaar in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, prompted a protest by traders only days after local residents held a demonstration over plans to relocate them to make room for a road-construction project. A court sentenced RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Nosir Zokirov to a six-month prison term for insulting a state official. And the Senate voted unanimously to approve the Foreign Ministry's earlier request giving the United States 180 days to vacate the Karshi-Khanabad air base Washington has used since 2001.

KAZAKHSTAN TO REPLACE UZBEKISTAN IN GAS SUPPLIES TO KYRGYZSTAN. Officials in Bishkek announced on 30 August that Kazakhstan has agreed to meet the country's natural-gas needs after Uzbekistan -- the region's largest gas supplier -- cut off some of its shipments to Kyrgyzstan amid political tensions. In the past, Tashkent has used its gas sales as a way of putting political pressure on Bishkek. Kyrgyz officials believe the latest decision is linked to the July evacuation to Romania of more than 400 Uzbek refugees who had fled to Kyrgyzstan following the Andijon violence last May.

Kubanychbek Jusupov, the deputy head of Kyrgyzstan's national gas distributor Kyrgyzgaz, announced on 29 August the Uzbek decision to cut off some of its natural gas shipments.

A day later, Jusupov told journalists in Bishkek that northern Kyrgyzstan will now receive its gas supplies from Kazakhstan's Kaztransgaz.

"Until the end of 2005, gas will continue to be supplied to Kyrgyzstan. Under a separate contract signed in August between Kyrgyzgaz and Uztransgaz, 103 million cubic meters of Uzbek gas will be supplied to southern Kyrgyzstan. This amount is enough for the south. To the north of the country, gas will be supplied by Kaztransgaz. It is also Uzbek gas, only it's supplied by Uztransgaz to Kaztransgaz," Jusupov said.

Kyrgyz lawmaker Davron Sabirov told RFE/RL the new arrangement means Kyrgyzstan will now be paying a higher price for its gas. "As I worked in gas sector for almost 30 years, I know the issue quite well. We have bought gas only from Uzbekistan for the last 40 years. Kazakhstan also buys Uzbek gas. Now the situation is changing. We used to pay $42 for 1,000 cubic meters of Uzbek gas. Now Kazakhstan is demanding that we pay $43 for [1,000 cubic meters of] their gas," Sabirov said.

Uzbekistan, the biggest gas supplier in Central Asia, exports natural gas to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan via the Central Asia-Central Russia pipeline.

Kyrgyzstan has bought between 700 million and 800 million cubic meters of Uzbek gas annually, paying half of the price in cash and the other half in Kyrgyz-made goods. It also supplies Uzbekistan with water for the cotton-growing season.

Uzbekistan has cut gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan on numerous occasions in the past, when it said Bishkek was behind in its payments. Since Uzbekistan began charging higher rates for its natural gas in the mid-1990s, Kyrgyzstan has fallen into payment arrears. Jusupov of Kyrgyzgaz said Kyrgyzstan owes $1.2 million to Uzbekistan for gas supplies.

However, independent observers say gas has always been a trump card in Uzbekistan's relations with neighbors. Tashkent has used gas as a bargaining tool in disagreements with Bishkek and as a way of putting political pressure on its neighbor.

This time, the disagreement seems to be over the fate of Uzbek refugees who fled to Kyrgyzstan after government troops forcibly put down an uprising in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon last May.

Jusupov told journalists he believes Tashkent's move was in retaliation for a decision by Kyrgyz officials to allow the UN to evacuate hundreds of Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan in late July.

Uzbekistan had sought their repatriation, saying many of them were wanted criminals. International observers feared Tashkent would prosecute and possibly even torture any Andijon protesters brought back into the country.

Jusupov said Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan signed a contract in mid-July on gas shipments through August 2006. But he said Tashkent broke the agreement after the evacuation of the 439 refugees to Romania.

"They don't say officially that [the decision to cut natural-gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan] was made because of the refugees. But we believe this was the reason, because the contract was signed on 19 July, and then certain events happened, and then they refused to register the contract and sent us a letter saying we should get gas from Kazakhstan's supplies," Jusupov said.

Toshpulat Yuldoshev, an independent political observer from Tashkent, agrees the move is a result of the evacuation of the Andijon refugees. "What Uzbekistan is doing is taking revenge on Kyrgyzstan. There is no other explanation for why they would decide now, less than two months later, to terminate an agreement signed in July. The reason for the decision was that despite all the pressure Uzbekistan put on Kyrgyzstan, it [Kyrgyzstan] still gave the Uzbeks the opportunity to leave for Romania," Yuldoshev said.

Much of Kyrgyzstan's electricity is generated by hydropower in the warmer months of the year. But natural gas is the primary fuel used for heat and electricity in many Kyrgyz towns and villages during the winter.

Past disruptions in gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan have resulted in blackouts and heating shortages during winter months.

The subsequent contract signed in August means that Uzbek gas will still be shipped to parts of southern Kyrgyzstan. But Sabirov said that if Uzbekistan had cut off all its energy supplies, over one-third of the people in Kyrgyzstan using Uzbek gas would be affected by the recent decision.

"The city of Bishkek and the Chui region around it [will be affected], including several towns, but it's mostly Bishkek that uses [Uzbek] gas. The [Kyrgyz] government has tried to develop its coal sector. Osh and Jalal-Abad [in southern Kyrgyzstan] are also going to be affected. Altogether, some 30-40 percent of Kyrgyz territory is supplied by Uzbek gas," Sabirov said.

Ganijon Kholmatov, a resident in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, says any decision by Tashkent to completely eliminate gas supplies would be likely to have a negative impact on interethnic relations in southern Kyrgyzstan, where there is a large Uzbek community.

"This decision is economic, but there are political reasons behind it. It will lead to worsening relations between the two countries and the two peoples, especially in the country's south -- in Osh and Jalal-Abad, and also in Khojabad, where the gas comes through. Resuming gas supplies has always caused joy among the people and has been an important factor in strengthening friendship [between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks]. The recent decision is going to damage this friendship and complicate relations between the two peoples," Kholmatov said.

Meanwhile, Kazakhs are set to strengthen their ties with Kyrgyzstan by stepping in to fill the energy gap.

Jusupov said Kyrgyzstan will have to buy more gas from Kazakhstan to prevent a possible crisis this winter. He added that Bishkek has to pay off a $17.5 million debt to Astana in order to ensure future Kazakh supplies.

The expected deal marks a new stage in Kazakhstan's economic expansion within Central Asia. It also confirms energy-rich Kazakhstan's growing economic influence over its impoverished neighbor Kyrgyzstan. Kazakhs have already established a position of dominance in Kyrgyzstan's banking sector. (Gulnoza Saidazimova, with contributions from Gofurjon Yuldoshev of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service and Burulkan Sarygulova of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. Originally published on 30 August.)

UZBEKISTAN: MIGRATING TO MAKE ENDS MEET. The violence that rocked the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon on 12-13 May riveted the world's attention for one simple reason -- virtually all accounts of the event that were not filtered through Uzbek officialdom indicated that government forces had perpetrated a massacre. But for those who are attempting to puzzle out the implications of the bloodshed both for Uzbekistan and Central Asia, the event's significance is at once broader and more ominous.

Beyond the mystery of the men who started the violence and beyond the questions about 13 May that the Uzbek government's refusal to allow an independent investigation renders temporarily unanswerable, the event raised the frightening prospect that even as social and economic discontents in Uzbekistan's Ferghana Valley have created conditions ripe for instability, the government's arsenal for dealing with potential unrest is limited and deadly. Put bluntly, many fear that the elements of a catastrophic breakdown are coalescing.

One of the frustrations that confront analysts is that Uzbekistan is not a sufficiently open society for anyone to know whether this danger is imminent or overblown. At best, we get glimpses. Recent reporting by RFE/RL's Tajik and Uzbek services provides a telling glimpse of one crucial problem in Uzbekistan today -- the economic hardships that are a grueling fact of life for many of the country's citizens.

Labor migration is by now a seemingly permanent feature of the Central Asian landscape. Hundreds of thousands of Tajiks, for example, brave legal uncertainties and myriad dangers to earn in Russia what they cannot earn at home. And as RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 17 August, hundreds of Uzbeks travel to Tajikistan for exactly the same reason.

Market Of Day-Laborers

In Konibodom, 70 kilometers to the east of Khujand, Uzbeks gather on the Tajik side of the barbed wire that marks the border at a place the locals have come to call the "market of Uzbek day-laborers." Ranging in age from 20 to 50, they told RFE/RL that they come from the Beshariq District of Uzbekistan's Ferghana Province.

A bilateral agreement allows Uzbek citizens to cross the border without a visa and spend up to five days in Tajikistan. "Where we live, there's no work and salaries are low," one Uzbek laborer told RFE/RL. "Under these conditions, how am I supposed to feed my children?" The man explained that he is 32 years old, a carpenter by trade, with three young children and no job at home.

Some of the migrant workers told RFE/RL that they have an education in technical fields or teaching, but said that salaries around $30 a month are not enough to make ends meet. An RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondent asked them why they come to Konibodom, where so many residents, men and women, have themselves left to look for work in Russia and Kazakhstan. "This place is close and it's easy to get to," one Uzbek said. "That's why we chose it. We're mainly involved in construction here, things like roofing and carpentry. In general, whatever they ask us to do, we do."

The Uzbek workers said that in Konibodom, and sometimes in Isfara, they can make 15-20 somonis ($4.75-$6.32) a day. They also explained that they lacked the money to travel to more distant locations, although many Uzbeks from the Ferghana Valley do make the trek elsewhere, particularly to Russia.

Zayniddin Orifi, a specialist in labor issues, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service about some of the problems the Uzbeks face in Tajikistan. "Today, in many personal dwellings where construction is under way, Uzbeks do the work," Orifi said. "Compared to 2004, their numbers have increased in Konibodom. They're mainly from Beshariq District, but some of them are from the cities of Andijon and Kokand. In the past, police in Konibodom would usually register the migrant workers who were in Tajikistan illegally, such as those who overstayed their permits, and deport them. There was nothing political about this. Now, once the Uzbek migrant workers have spent the five days they're allowed, they try to go back home and come back to Tajikistan the next morning for another five days. Sometimes the Tajik police kick them out for illegal employment or nonpayment of taxes, since most of the Uzbek migrant workers work in private homes without an official contract."

Not all cases involving Uzbek migrants are so simple, however. In one recent incident, Tajik border guards and police detained 10 Uzbek citizens from Ferghana and Andijon while they were allegedly illegally crossing into Tajikistan. The Prosecutor-General's Office in Konibodom said that criminal cases were opened against eight of the alleged trespassers, while two were released because they were under age. A source in the Prosecutor-General's Office charged, however, that the Uzbeks had not come to Tajikistan looking for work. In light of the hundreds of Uzbek refugees who arrived in Kyrgyzstan in the wake of the Andijon violence, RFE/RL's Tajik Service asked whether these Uzbeks, including four from Andijon, might also be seeking asylum or refuge. Prosecutors in Konibodom cited the ongoing investigation and declined to answer.

Caterpillar Pickers

Another of Uzbekistan's neighbors, Kazakhstan, also draws migrant workers. As RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on 17 August, Uzbek citizens from the country's Sirdaryo Province cross into Kazakhstan to work in the cotton fields, where in August they were busy gathering up the caterpillars that attack the plants. For each caterpillar, Kazakh farmers pay them six soms (1,000 soms is about $1, so six soms comes to 1/6 of a cent).

A young man who told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that he and 10 other Uzbeks had already spent a week in the Kazakh cotton fields explained why it's worth working from morning until night. "The farmers meet us themselves," he said. "We come to an agreement on pay with them. They also take care of lunch. In one day, we collect 650 caterpillars, on a good day, up to 2,000." At six soms per caterpillar, 650 caterpillars yield $3.90; 2,000 yield $12.

A woman from Sirdaryo Province told RFE/RL that the money she earns in Kazakhstan helps to buy school supplies for her children and clothes for the family. "Our children also go out to make money picking up caterpillars," she said. "This is a big relief for us since there's no other place to make money."

Other women from Sirdaryo Province said they have no difficulties crossing the border, adding that the border guards simply ignore them. They said they are grateful for the opportunity to benefit from the relative prosperity of Kazakh farmers. "We go to Kazakhstan to work starting in early spring," one woman said. "This continues until the cotton harvest is over. We work first to hoe the ground, then to trim the plants, and finally to harvest the cotton." (Daniel Kimmage. Originally published on 30 August.)

RUSSIANS LEAVING KYRGYZSTAN, DESPITE ACCEPTANCE BY KYRGYZ. For decades, Russians have been more accepted in Kyrgyzstan than perhaps anywhere else in Central Asia. But with the revolution last March that brought down the government of President Askar Akaev, the number of Russians seeking emigration has increased to a point not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russians have lived in Kyrgyzstan since the mid-1800s, when tsarist forces moved south into Central Asia. More than any of their neighbors, the Kyrgyz have embraced Russians along with other minority groups in the country.

Byubina Oruzbaeva, a linguistics professor at the National Academy of Sciences in Bishkek, says the prominence of the Russian language is evidence of how the Kyrgyz feel about what she calls their "brothers."

She says that in her 80 years, Russian has never declined in popularity as a language both in the government and in the markets. "The Russian language is in full use in Kyrgyzstan, as nowhere else in Central Asia," Oruzbaeva said.

Indeed, Russian is a more practical language in Kyrgyzstan than even Kyrgyz. Most Kyrgyz speak some Russian. And many of the other minorities -- Dungan, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, and Germans -- are more likely to speak Russian than Kyrgyz.

Oruzbaeva says it is unthinkable that Russians would not be part of Kyrgyzstan. "It's impossible [to tell Russians to leave], because for ages, for 150 years, Russians have been living here," Oruzbaeva says.

It's not just the academics in Bishkek who feel this way. Bekbolot Manashev and his wife Burul have lived all their lives in a village near the Issyk-Ata spa, 40 kilometers southeast of the capital. They say the 10 Russian families in their village are very much a part of the community.

"We live as brothers. This is where we work. This is where we live. Both sides [Russians and Kyrgyz] even go together when there is a funeral," Burul Manasheva said.

The feeling is no different in Uzgen, an Uzbek-dominated city in southwestern Kyrgyzstan near the border with Uzbekistan.

Bachtiar Raimyanov and his wife Machiidil, an unemployed couple with two children, have nothing but praise for Russians. "We think it would be better if future generations of Russians continue to live here," Bachtiar Raimyanov said.

But despite such evident acceptance, the number of Russians is dwindling. Russians officially comprised 22 percent of the population when Kyrgyzstan broke from the Soviet Union in 1991. Ten years later, that number had decreased to 13 percent, or about 600,000 people.

Then, in mid-March, antigovernment protesters stormed and occupied the presidential compound in Bishkek and, fearing the unrest, emigration applications rose dramatically.

Then-President Akaev was openly pro-Russian and had close ties to Moscow. Russians in Kyrgyzstan feared his ouster would cut off ties with the Kremlin, dealing a blow to the Kyrgyz economy and raising resentment of ethnic Russians in the process.

The Russian Embassy in the capital says the number of ethnic Russians requesting migration increased from about 60 people per day to nearly 300 a day in March.

Back in Uzgen, Raimyanov says Russians have nothing to fear. The revolution, he says, was not aimed at them. "They [Russians] decided by themselves to leave the country. There was no one to kick them out of the country. Nothing like that. There were no bad feelings toward them. They made the decision to leave on their own," Raimyanov says.

Russians generally agree they are not treated badly in Kyrgyzstan, but some complain they are not as valued as during Soviet times.

Vladimir Vereshchagin, an ethnic Russian who has lived all his life in Kyrgyzstan, says he has witnessed a gradual increase in tension between Kyrgyz and Russians since Kyrgyzstan became independent. "I can feel disrespect toward Russians and other nationalities. There is some disdain for us -- not a huge amount, but there is," Vereshchagin said.

Vereshchagin says a number of his friends have left. But he says he will stay, primarily because he has taken advantage of business opportunities -- namely, in tourism -- and has become one of the country's wealthier citizens.

Svetlana Rogoinikova, an ethnic Russian born and raised in Bishkek, also says Russians have lost respect in recent years. Rogoinikova says seven of her ethnic Russian friends have left Kyrgyzstan in the last six months. She has a good job -- as a national program officer with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. But Rogoinikova says she remains determined to get her husband and two children out of the country, even after five fruitless years of attempting to immigrate to Canada.

"The economic situation is getting worse, and conditions -- environmental conditions and social conditions -- are getting worse. And I feel I can find a [better] application of my knowledge and skills in other countries," Rogoinikova said.

So when will this current wave of emigration end? Will the trend be slowed by the July election victory of President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who has a Russian wife?

Markus Muller, head of the Bishkek bureau of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, says it is too early to answer these questions. Muller says it is now important that the government convince the country's Russians that they remain an important part of society, and that there will still be opportunities for them in Kyrgyzstan.

"Mainly the young people, of course, they want to see a future in this country. And if they get the impression they're not liked here, of course they will leave," Muller said.

Muller says it does not seem likely at the moment, but there are always opportunities in difficult times for Kyrgyz nationalists to gain significant support on the basis of religious and ethnic issues -- particularly because the Russians themselves have never felt a need to organize politically in Kyrgyzstan. "As it's cheap and easy to make politics with religion, it's also very cheap and easy to make politics on national topics or ethnic topics," Muller said.

As the future remains uncertain, perhaps Vereshchagin sums up the feelings of Russians in Kyrgyzstan best: "Leave us alone. Just let us live." (Timothy Jasek, with contributions from RFE/RL's Larissa Balanovskaya and Amirbek Usmanov of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. Originally published on 29 August.)

IMPLICATIONS FOR KAZAKH PRESIDENT APPEAR TO BE WANING AS BRIBERY CASE DRAGS ON. The so-called Kazakhgate criminal case has been moving at a snail's pace through the U.S. federal court system in New York. The indictment alleges that U.S. citizen James Giffen, a former consultant to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, funneled up to $84 million in illicit payments to Nazarbaev and former Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbaev in exchange for lucrative concessions to Western oil companies. The investigation and the indictment have been a source of major embarrassment for Kazakhstan, a country considered a strategic U.S. ally in Central Asia. But in light of a third consecutive trial postponement, some experts believe Kazakhgate is gradually losing steam.

Most of the charges for which James Giffen was indicted fall under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The law prohibits U.S. citizens from bribing foreign officials for business advantage.

Stanley Marcuss, a Washington-based lawyer who helped draft the act, discussed the law with RFE/RL as it relates to the Kazakh case. He said the law goes after the initiator of a bribe, not the recipient. "The nature of the statute is such that it penalizes those who pay bribes, not those who receive them. So, it's natural that the recipient would not be prosecuted. But because there are foreign government officials involved, there is bound to be some degree of political consideration that has to go into the U.S. government's assessment of whether or not to prosecute," Marcuss said.

Many observers say it is unlikely that President Nazarbaev will ever be indicted: first, because he is not a U.S. citizen; second, because of the political consequences of such an indictment. U.S. Federal Judge William Pauley, who is presiding over the case, acknowledged during the last public hearing in June 2004 that he is well aware of the possible political implications of Kazakhgate.

Some legal scholars say certain statutes of limitation may already have expired, thus making the prospect of Nazarbaev's indictment even more remote.

Marcuss believes the case is unlikely to become a topic for discussion at the highest levels. "There is no question that the case is bound to be a matter of embarrassment, at a minimum, it seems to me, to the president of Kazakhstan, Nazarbaev," he said. "But I doubt that it would be a matter of discussion between [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush and President Nazarbaev because the practice and the custom is for U.S. government officials not to talk about any case that is under either investigation or prosecution with any of the people who are involved in the case."

Donald Zarin, a Washington-based lawyer and the author of a book about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, told RFE/RL that it is likely the U.S. Justice Department will continue to push ahead with its prosecution of the case, despite the current gridlock. On the other side, he said, the U.S. administration will go about its dealings with Kazakhstan as it has been doing -- without any reference to the politically explosive case. Nevertheless, the issue of corruption is one that is important to Washington.

"Right now, corruption is a significant issue in the media, in government, in terms of economic-development-related issues. And it's become a major policy issue of the U.S. government in terms of trying to reduce corruption in countries that are developing countries," Zarin said.

Zarin noted that, under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the conduct in question must have occurred no later than five years before prosecution is started. The indictment against Giffen was announced in April 2003. Some of the charges relate to events that are alleged to have taken place more than five years before that, some less.

By pressing ahead, Zarin said the U.S. Justice Department is signaling the importance it places on the case. However, U.S. foreign-policy priorities, he said, will take precedence. "I think that the other [U.S.] foreign-policy issues will certainly override this issue. An ongoing investigation and indictment in criminal charges against [James] Giffen and others that involve the president [Nazarbaev] -- collateral, what's going to be the impact? And I think the impact will be minimal because there are overriding other foreign-policy issues," Zarin said.

William J. Schwartz, an attorney with Giffen's defense team, declined to comment on the case to RFE/RL.

A new trial date has been set for January 2006. (Nikola Krastev. Originally published on 26 August.)

UZBEK SECURITY SERVICE STEPS UP WORK IN NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES. Two citizens of Uzbekistan were imprisoned in mid-August in neighboring Tajikistan on charges of espionage. Tajik officials say one of the men is an agent with the Uzbek security service and the other a Defense Ministry officer. There have been several cases during the past six months of Uzbeks being jailed in Tajikistan on charges of spying and "attempting to destabilize" the country. There are indications the Uzbek security service has become more active in Kygyzstan as well -- particularly in the country's south, where many Uzbeks fled after the violence in Andijon in May.

Alisher Saipov, an independent journalist from the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, in July interviewed Qobiljon Parpiev, the alleged ringleader of the Andijon protests and a wanted man in Uzbekistan, where authorities have accused him of terrorist activities.

Soon afterward, Saipov said, he received a curious proposal. "A local human rights activist, the head of the Law and Order human rights group, told me that an Uzbek security service officer wanted to talk to me about a very special offer," Saipov told RFE/RL. "I said, �OK, tell him I can meet with him.' The man came. I was there with my friend. We talked. He said: �You know where Qobiljon Parpiev is. You've contacted him. If we catch him with your help, you'll receive the $10,000 reward promised for his capture.'"

Saipov said the man introduced himself by name and said he was an officer of the economic department of the Andijon regional branch of the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB).

Saipov said the SNB has intensified its activity in southern Kyrgyzstan since hundreds of Uzbeks flowed into the country seeking refuge following the Andijon violence.

Most of the Uzbek refugees were relocated to Romania in late July. But dozens more Uzbeks are believed to still be in hiding in the south of Kyrgyzstan. Some Kyrgyz citizens say Uzbek SNB officers have contacted them and asked for help in tracking down the refugees.

One woman from Osh said her son was summoned to an office of the Kyrgyz security service to be questioned by an Uzbek SNB officer. The woman, who does not want her name to be used, said her son was visiting Andijon on 13 May and witnessed the bloody clashes between the protesters and government troops. "They didn't ask why and how he crossed the border and went [to Andijon]," she said of her son. "They immediately showed pictures of dead protesters and asked: �Do you recognize them? Do you want to be like them?' They threatened him, saying, 'If we prove your guilt, your condition is going to be even worse than theirs.'"

Some Osh residents say the Uzbek special services were active in southern Kyrgyzstan long before the Andijon events. Dilyor Jumaboev, a member of the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, told RFE/RL that Uzbek SNB officers have become such a familiar sight that many local residents know them by name.

"Olim, the head of our neighborhood, was approached by the Uzbek SNB," Jumaboev said. "They had a conversation about Hizb ut-Tahrir members. In Kara-Suu, there are a lot of Uzbek security service officers. There are [men] from the Uzbek [SNB's] antiterror department who feel free to operate here."

Hizb ut-Tahrir is officially banned both in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan because of its alleged aim to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, in Central Asia. Government authorities accuse the group of conspiring to use violence to achieve its end, a charge Hizb ut-Tahrir denies.

Despite the ban, Hizb ut-Tahrir members in southern Kyrgyzstan are relatively free to distribute leaflets and participate in informal gatherings. Members in Uzbekistan, by contrast, are harshly persecuted and jailed.

Jumaboev said the Uzbek SNB has followed the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir members in southern Kyrgyzstan for the past several years. But recently it has adopted more aggressive tactics, promising residents financial rewards in exchange for help catching Hizb ut-Tahrir members and smuggling them across the border into Uzbekistan.

It remains unclear to what degree the Kyrgyz security service is collaborating on the efforts to round up local Hizb ut-Tahrir members. Both Saipov and Jumaboev say they have contacted Kyrgyz security officials about the activities of the Uzbek SNB in southern Kyrgyzstan, but received no information.

Talantbek Qojonov, the Osh city prosecutor, also refused to comment on the issue. "I can't answer this question because we don't have any information about it," Qojonov said.

Uzbekistan routinely dismisses claims about the presence of SNB agents in Kyrgyzstan. RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contacted the Uzbek Embassy in Bishkek and received a simple denial. "We already issued a press release on this occasion saying that this [information] is not true," the embassy statement said.

The Uzbek SNB has also become a topic of debate in Tajikistan. Local media have reported extensively on the recent imprisonment of two Uzbek citizens on charges of espionage.

The Tajik National Security Ministry says the two men were detained in January for crossing the Tajik border illegally. The ministry statement says the men had also attempted to distribute "anticonstitutional leaflets" at the behest of "foreign special services" in order to disrupt the February parliamentary elections in the Zafarobod District near the Uzbek border.

Tajik officials say several Uzbeks have been jailed over the past half year on charges of spying and "attempting to destabilize" Tajikistan. The prison terms reportedly vary from five to 25 years.

Authorities in Tashkent have refused to comment on the prison cases.

Khulkar Yusupov is an editor with the independent Varorud news agency. Speaking from the Tajik city of Khujand, he told RFE/RL the Uzbek SNB has been active in the country for years -- but now seems to stepping up its work even more. "The activity of the Uzbek special services increased after the Andijon events," Yusupov said. "I think they are searching for organizers [of the Andijon protests] who might be hiding here in Khujand or Isfara. It's very easy to cross the border despite all the guards."

Yusupov said Tajik authorities and state-owned media seem to have changed their stance on the Uzbek SNB activity. The media used to report about spies from an unnamed "neighboring country." But the recent trials have brought the issue out in the open -- even at the risk of harming relations with Uzbekistan.

Kyrgyzstan has yet to see similar trials. However, it may not be long before the situation changes there. An analyst from a Kyrgyz government think tank told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that his team is preparing a report for the authorities recommending stronger measures to counter the activity of the Uzbek special services in Kyrgyzstan. (Gulnoza Saidazimova, with contributions from RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondents Elmurod Jusupaliev and Alisher Akhmedov from Osh and Khujand, respectively. Originally published on 25 August.)