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Central Asia Report: July 11, 2003


11 July 2003, Volume 3, Number 24

OSCE CHAIRMAN IN CENTRAL ASIA. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairman-in-Office and Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer embarked this week on a tour of four of the five Central Asian states (omitting Turkmenistan). The tour was dominated by talks on security, democratization, and human rights. De Hoop Scheffer has designated the region a priority during his one-year term at the OSCE, the only European security organization to encompass all five countries. To underscore institutional interest in the area, in April and May 2003 he dispatched former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari as his personal envoy to Central Asia. The latter paved the way for the chairman's visit by previewing the main points on OSCE's agenda with Central Asia's leaders

KAZAKHSTAN, THE REGION'S 'LOCOMOTIVE.' De Hoop Scheffer's first stop was Kazakhstan, where he met President Nursultan Nazarbaev in the former capital Almaty on 7 July. They discussed Kazakhstan's political and economic development, as well as relations between Kazakhstan and the Netherlands, with the president asking for increased Dutch investment in his country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2003). Meanwhile de Hoop Scheffer said he was convinced that Kazakhstan "is acting as a driving force, a locomotive, of political and economic reforms" in Central Asia, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. He assured reporters that he also "raised a number of very important political subjects" with Nazarbaev, as well as unspecified issues concerned with civil society development. He added that the OSCE would not impose its views on Kazakhstan, but was ready to assist the country if requested to do so, AP reported.

The OSCE chairman sounded more courageous during talks with Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, with whom he brought up the cases of jailed opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov and jailed opposition leader Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov. Both men were imprisoned during the past year on what supporters and human rights activists claim were politically motivated charges. "What I can do and what I have done is ask for a fair trial," de Hoop Scheffer said on 7 July, as quoted by AP. His words implied that neither prisoner got one. Nor are they likely to have their cases reviewed in Kazakhstan any time soon. Last month the Almaty Oblast Court refused to review the case against Duvanov, who was sentenced in January to 3 1/2 years' imprisonment for statutory rape (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2003). And on 2 July Zhaqiyanov's defense lawyer, Yelena Rebenchuk, revealed that Kazakhstan's Supreme Court had rejected her client's appeal, also. In 2002 a lower court sentenced Zhaqiyanov, who co-founded the opposition coalition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), to seven years' imprisonment for alleged abuse of office while governor of Pavlodar Oblast. Unlike fellow DVK co-founder Mukhtar Abliyazov, who asked Nazarbaev for pardon after spending about one year in jail on similar charges, Zhaqiyanov has refused to plead for mercy and asked his lawyers to take his case to an international court, where he intends to sue the Kazakh government for allowing an illegitimate case to be brought against him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2003). On 2 July Rebenchuk added the information that Zhaqiyanov had contracted tuberculosis in prison.

De Hoop Scheffer also raised the issue of new election legislation with Toqaev and Central Election Committee Chairwoman Zagipa Balieva, Khabar news agency reported. The OSCE has been sharply critical of election practices in Kazakhstan during previous parliamentary and presidential elections. The need for improved laws covering Kazakh mass media and NGOs was also reportedly discussed. De Hoop Scheffer said he offered OSCE assistance to Toqaev in any area where Kazakhstan felt it was required.

UZBEK LEADER REJECTS HUMAN RIGHTS 'LECTURING.' De Hoop Scheffer arrived in the Uzbek capital Tashkent on 8 July, where he talked for almost two hours with President Islam Karimov. After allegedly securing Karimov's agreement that "one of the main values in any state was a human being's fate, his life," the OSCE chairman told a press conference that he urged the president to introduce a moratorium on use of the death penalty, uzreport.com and RIA-Novosti and reported. Both sides concurred that regional security and stability depended on normalizing the situation in Afghanistan. Uzbekistan has expressed approval of a proposal that Afghanistan be accepted as an OSCE partner state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2003). Afghanistan could then cooperate more closely with other OSCE members on issues as international terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and other forms of transnational crime.

Karimov, who is visibly happier talking about regional security questions than domestic political issues with foreign visitors, has complained loudly in the past about what he considers the OSCE's overemphasis on human rights issues. He thus had reason to be pleased with de Hoop Scheffer's visit, where democratization concerns took a back seat to international relations. According to the official mouthpiece uzreport.com on 8 July, both sides noted that the OSCE's work in Uzbekistan has become "more balanced" in recent years, "thanks to increasing attention to the issue of stability and security in the region, as well as economic development."

The alleged lack of balance and proportion in Western approaches to Uzbekistan was also the theme of some piquant remarks by Karimov on 5 July. In an interview broadcast on Uzbek TV's major news program "Ahborot," Karimov complained about outsiders' "increasing attempts to come to our country and lecture us," just as "big brother Moscow" used to do before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nowadays, Westerners are always trying to dictate how to build democracy, how to achieve liberalization and economic reform, and always "seeking to teach us about freedom: freedom of speech, political freedoms, and civil rights, treating us as if were living in some desert in a distant corner of the world, as if we were eagerly looking forward to receiving their advice and instructions." Karimov retorted that Uzbekistan had made undeniable progress in the field of democratization during the last decade, "yet still they criticize us and say your country is not in compliance with this or that standard. What standards are they talking about? American standards, European, or some other standards? Above all, you should ask us whether we approve of these standards. Do they meet our essential requirements -- the values which have been so deeply ingrained in our minds and souls?" Karimov asserted that Uzbekistan was developing the type of society that corresponded with Uzbek traditions and values.

The president's outburst represents the clearest indication to date about how mounting Western criticism of his regime has affected his political thinking. Since the May 2003 European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) board of governors meeting in Tashkent, analysts have been waiting for Karimov to signal whether he has emerged from that public-relations fiasco chastened or defiant. Last week he answered that question. By warning that he was not going to be bullied, or wheedled, into accelerating democratic reforms in Uzbekistan, he has not left the OSCE with much hope of making a contribution in the so-called Human Dimension of its work.

OSCE ANNOUNCES MODERNIZATION PROGRAM FOR KYRGYZ POLICE. In the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, where de Hoop Scheffer arrived on 9 July, he told President Askar Akaev that the government should extend its moratorium on the death penalty, Interfax reported. It also needed to sign the UN additional protocol to the Convention against Torture, the visitor said. Akaev responded that his government strongly supported the war on terrorism and was actively cooperating with international programs against the illegal trafficking of arms, drugs, and people. He also lobbied for one of his pet projects � a forum for dialogue between the OSCE and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, hosted by Bishkek. The president told his guest that such a meeting would not only encourage East-West understanding, but act as a spur for more international economic cooperation, Kabar news agency reported.

According to Kabar, the Kyrgyz president was pleased to note that his country's cooperation with the OSCE had become "more effective" in recent years. The phrase sounds suspiciously like a Kyrgyz synonym for Karimov's "more balanced" (see above). The international community has mitigated its criticisms of Bishkek's worsening democratization and human rights record, too, while the government hosts troops and jets of the international antiterrorism coalition at Manas airport outside the capital. Nevertheless, de Hoop Scheffer was slightly bolder in his criticisms of Bishkek than he had been in Tashkent. While acknowledging that "Kyrgyzstan has made certain progress in its democratic reforms," he added, "the republic still has to do a lot of things, in particular, to ensure the supremacy of law and human rights protection." He specially emphasized the need to ensure the freedom of the mass media, Interfax reported on 9 July.

In a parallel development, Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu told a session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Rotterdam on 8 July that Kyrgyzstan has had every opportunity to become a model of democracy in Central Asia, but there were still many instances of human rights violations. He also appealed to the OSCE to give more support to the democratic-reform process and to the implementation of human rights in Kyrgyzstan. In recent years, the organization has paid more attention to economic and environmental issues, as requested by Central Asian governments that were uncomfortable with earlier OSCE activism in the field of human rights (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2003).

The most attention-grabbing aspect of de Hoop Scheffer's visit to Bishkek, however, was the news that the OSCE was giving 3.6 million euros ($4.07 million) to the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry to provide modern equipment and technical training for the police. Richard Monk, OSCE representative in Bishkek, made the announcement on 8 July. The 18-month program is due to commence shortly and could be extended if deemed successful, Monk said. It was designed in response to a request by Kyrgyz Interior Minister Bakirdin Subanbekov for financial and technical help, and comprises eight projects, including streamlining criminal investigations, creating a municipal police service in the capital, and outfitting police and antidrug agencies with modern vehicles, digital cameras, and other forms of up-to-date video, audio, and radio equipment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2003).

But leaders of civil society in Kyrgyzstan said they feared the program would increase the ability of law enforcement to repress the opposition, Deutsche Welle reported on 8 July. Monk tried to quell their fears. He said the OSCE did not plan to supply the authorities with specialized equipment used to put down riots. He also stressed that it was always possible to stop street rallies without the use of police violence, Interfax reported. But a bad choice of words -- Monk said the OSCE hoped that proper training of police personnel, and better contacts with ordinary citizens, would help prevent mass rallies and disturbances in the future -- apparently reinforced suspicions that the police were being strengthened at the expense of citizens' rights. After Monk said the OSCE-sponsored equipment could be used to cope with large-scale "disorder," civil society activists retorted that the authorities applied the term "disorder" to peaceful demonstrations by citizens trying to assert their rights. Their apprehensions were not dissipated by the news, contained in a 8 July statement by the Interior Ministry about the OSCE program, that the ministry, planned to establish a specialized unit dedicated to preventing public conflicts and riots.

De Hoop Scheffer did not have much to say to reassure oppositionists on this score. He asserted, "It is necessary that law enforcement works closely with the people," Interfax reported on 9 July. He also told journalists, "President Akaev assured me that nongovernmental organizations will be able to observe the realization of the project." Unfortunately, there is not much trust between NGOs and the authorities these days, and law enforcement agencies' record of working "closely with the people" thus far does not inspire confidence.

The OSCE chairman was scheduled to wrap up his tour of the region with a visit to Tajikistan.

BILATERAL COMMISSION ON CITIZENSHIP ISSUES HOLDS TALKS IN TURKMENISTAN. A Russian-Turkmen commission on citizenship issues, formed to study the legal situation of Russian citizens living in Turkmenistan, began its work in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat with a two-day round of talks on 8-9 July, turkmenistan.ru and Russian media reported. The commission was created in response to the uproar following Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's unilateral decision to terminate, on 22 June, his country's 10-year dual-citizenship agreement with Russia. According to the latest figures from the Russian Embassy in Ashgabat, its consular department has 95,500 citizens registered with dual citizenship.

Moscow named Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksei Fedotov to lead its delegation to the committee, Interfax reported. Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Consular Service Vladimir Kotenev was appointed the commission's executive secretary for the Russian side. The Russian delegation also comprised Duma Committee on CIS Affairs Deputy Chairman Sergei Apatenko, Deputy Employment and Social Development Minister Maksim Topilin, two officials from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), a representative of the immigration services, and an expert on citizenship issues from President Vladimir Putin's office.

Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov led the Turkmen delegation. It also included First Deputy Interior Minister Geldmuhammed Ashirmuhammedov, Deputy National Security Minister Nury Haldurdyev, one parliamentarian, a representative of the border services, and a representative of the Foreign Citizens' Registration Service.

Meanwhile, Niyazov continued to maintain that the commission's role was not so much to negotiate problems resulting from his revocation of dual citizenship, but to help Moscow understand that there are no problems associated with the issue, which has allegedly been blown wildly out of proportion by malicious Russian politicians and sensation-seeking media outlets. Niyazov has promised to "ask for pardon" if the commission "uncovers even a single Russian who has been abused or persecuted," gundogar.com said.

The Turkmen Foreign Ministry, which has repeatedly complained against what it calls gross distortions of Turkmen affairs by Russian media, thundered again on 8 July in a press statement against Rossiya TV, whose program "News of the Week" included a critical item on Turkmenistan on 6 July. The ministry claimed it was particularly disturbed by the broadcast because it was shown just as the bilateral commission was beginning its work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2003). Similarly, Ashgabat's ambassador to Moscow, Halnazar Agahanov, denounced a demonstration in front of his embassy on 4 July as an "unfriendly act." About 100 picketers, who were members of the Moscow branch of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, carried signs protesting the treatment of ethnic Russians in Turkmenistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2003). According to vremya.ru, these signs read, "Russia Does Not Abandon Its Own."

Fedotov was quoted on 8 July by Interfax as saying that, although Russia and Turkmenistan were at odds, "we will be trying to keep relations with Turkmenistan at a good level and ensure conditions for their further development." Niyazov, who was holidaying on the Caspian coast in Turkmenbashy (former Krasnovodsk), reportedly participated several times in the negotiations by telephone. A protocol, signed by both sides following this first round of talks, did not seem to suggest that they had really bridged their differences. It waffled that the document on ending the dual citizenship, signed in April by Putin and Niyazov, "will be implemented, after coming into force, in strict conformity with legislation of the parties and international law." Meanwhile Fedotov told journalists in Ashgabat after the talks that "the Turkmen side officially said that the rights and interests of the Russian citizens residing in the territory of Turkmenistan are not infringed on and will be observed in full," turkmenistan.ru reported on 10 July. The commission's second, final round will take place in the autumn in Moscow, the website added.

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