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Central Asia Report: May 16, 2002

16 May 2002, Volume 2, Number 19

THOUSANDS PROTEST SINO-KYRGYZ BORDER AGREEMENT. On 10 May, the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's legislature ratified the Sino-Kyrgyz border treaty signed by Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and Chinese President Jiang Zemin in August 1999, the newspaper "Vechernii Bishkek" and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The agreement is controversial because it cedes some 95,000 hectares of disputed territory to China, and because oppositionists say it was signed illegally by Akaev who obviated proper parliamentary procedure. Its apparent ratification by 36 of the 60 deputies immediately ran into trouble, as opposition members contended that ratification required a two-thirds majority. Government supporters disagreed.

The vote inflamed passions across the country. About 100 citizens picketed the parliament building to protest the border agreement, RFE/RL reported on 10 May. By 13 May, nine people had started hunger strikes outside the building, demanding that the treaty be annulled. At the same time, they were demanding Akaev's resignation; the dissolution of the parliament; the closure of the criminal case against deputy Azimbek Beknazarov; the acquittal of the jailed leader of the opposition Ar-Namys Party, Feliks Kulov; a serious investigation into the clashes in Aksy Raion on 17-18 March; and the publication of the results of such an investigation, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. By 13 May, thousands of people were participating in demonstrations throughout Kyrgyzstan with the same list of demands. About 2,500 people protested in Aksy Raion. Thousands more blocked the Bishkek-Osh highway. In Bishkek, 500 people marched through the center, shouting "Akaev, resign!" "No territories to China!" and "Freedom for Kulov and Beknazarov!" (see "RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 13 May 2002).

The People's Assembly, parliament's upper house, indicated last week that it would ratify the territorial settlement if the lower house did (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 9 May 2002). But on 14 May, only 21 of the upper house's 45 deputies voted in favor, nine short of the two-thirds vote necessary to approve the agreement, RFE/RL reported. The treaty now returns to the lower house for further review.

NEW BILATERAL TREATIES DEFINING CASPIAN SECTORS. The presidents of the five member states of the Eurasian Economic Community (which comprises Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan) met in Moscow on 13 May, Russian news agencies reported. The most noteworthy business of the day happened on the summit's sidelines, however, between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev when they signed a bilateral protocol spelling out the geographical coordinates of a median line between their respective sectors in the Caspian Sea, Interfax reported. The protocol expands on a bilateral agreement from July 1998 about dividing up the northern Caspian seabed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2002). It also apportions three rich natural-gas fields whose ownership has long been a matter of dispute between Moscow and Astana. Under the finalized arrangement, Kazakhstan gets the Qurmanghazy gas deposit, while the Khvalynskoe and Tsentralnoe fields go to Russia, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 14 May. Putin called the agreement "a real breakthrough in bilateral cooperation in the development of the Caspian Sea," according to AP on 13 May. The service added that Putin had called on the five Caspian littoral states to conclude bilateral treaties after last month's Caspian summit in Ashgabat failed to yield any results. On 13 May, Nazarbaev concurred that the Russian-Kazakh protocol should serve as an example for the other littoral states, Interfax reported.

Meanwhile, on 9 May, the newspaper "Azarbaycan" said that the Milli Maclis (Azerbaijan's parliament) had ratified the bilateral treaty that was signed last November with Kazakhstan on delimiting the two countries' sectors of the Caspian Sea.

COLLECTIVE-SECURITY TREATY STATES REJECT JOINT-STAFF PLAN. Following on immediately from the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC) summit, a jubilee session of the CIS Collective-Security Council (CSC), marking the 10th anniversary of the Collective-Security Treaty, began in Moscow on 14 May, RIA-Novosti reported. The six CSC members are the same as those of the EEC, plus Armenia. As well as the CSC countries' presidents, their ministers of defense, ministers of foreign affairs, and security-council secretaries were in attendance, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Meeting one day before their presidents, the 12 ministers considered the need for closer military and security cooperation in a region destabilized by the situation in Afghanistan, and consequently recommended to their leaders the establishment of a joint military command under the aegis of the Russian General Staff, AP said. Meanwhile, Radio Russia noted on 12 May that two-day exercises of the CIS Collective Rapid-Reaction Forces, involving approximately 1,000 soldiers from all six CSC countries, had begun at the Verkhoretsk military training ground near Nizhnii Novgorod.

Nevertheless, the ministers' proposal was rejected on 14 May by their bosses who balked at the prospect of a common military fighting force dominated by Russia, RFE/RL reported. They did acknowledge, however, the importance of more security cooperation. Putin said the signatories to the Collective-Security Treaty had to "adapt its mechanisms to tackle the new, nontraditional challenges and threats that all our countries are facing." The presidents agreed to upgrade the group's status to an official regional organization, to cooperate in military training projects, and to trade weapons at a single, privileged price (see "Russia: CIS Collective-Security Council Disagrees On Joint Military Force,", 14 May 2002).

KAZAKH MISSION TO BEIJING. Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasimzhomart Toqaev visited Beijing on 9-11 May, Xinhua news agency reported. His hastily arranged trip was widely seen as an attempt to reassure China, which is increasingly unhappy about the U.S. military buildup on its doorstep, that Kazakhstan is not intending to sideline its eastern neighbor. Meanwhile, Kazakh Commercial TV reported on 11 May that NATO had officially confirmed that it would be deploying troops soon in Kazakhstan's western Atyrau Oblast near the Caspian Sea, for unspecified tasks that "would not be limited to the aims of the counterterrorist operation in the region." On 28 April, Kazakh Defense Minister Colonel General Mukhtar Altynbaev announced plans to let coalition forces use three airfields for use in "emergency situations," but there was no mention of troops stationed on the ground in Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 2 May 2002).

On 10 May, Toqaev and his Chinese counterpart Tang Jiaxuan signed a border-delimitation protocol and promised to strengthen antiterrorist cooperation, Xinhua reported. Tang told Toqaev that the protocol had great symbolic significance insofar as it represented the resolution of all outstanding cross-border issues between their countries and paved the way for stability and peaceful exchanges. As for antiterrorist cooperation, both sides agreed that they formed a common front against Islamist extremists and "East Turkestan terrorists" among the Uighur populations of Kazakhstan and China's Xinjiang Province, according to Xinhua.

Addressing a gathering of Chinese businesspeople on 11 May, Toqaev made a pitch for investments by saying that there had been about $15 billion in direct investment in Kazakhstan's economy between 1993 and 2001, that Kazakhstan had concluded contracts for another $100 billion of foreign investment for the next quarter-century, and that the country's investment potential was "limitless," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Toqaev suggested transport, communications, pipelines, and power-transmission networks linking Europe to the Pacific as especially promising fields for Sino-Kazakh cooperation, the agency said. Toqaev was also received by Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, Kazakh Commercial TV said on 11 May.

GERMAN MISSION TO TASHKENT. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder arrived in Uzbekistan from Afghanistan on 9 May, where he visited German troops in the border town of Termez, stationed there as part of the International Security Assistance Force. He continued on to the capital Tashkent to meet President Islam Karimov on 10 May, local news sources reported. Schroeder thanked Karimov for making Termez airport available and for opening the Friendship Bridge at Termez to allow supplies and humanitarian aid to be transported to the German contingent in Afghanistan, Uzbek radio and Reuters reported. Interfax added that Germany used Termez airport free of charge and paid only for accommodation, catering, and other services, on the basis on an intergovernmental agreement signed in February between Tashkent and Berlin. At a press conference after talks with Karimov, Schroeder said that German soldiers would continue to use Termez base as long as they were involved in operations in Afghanistan and Tashkent let them use it.

The chancellor was also accompanied by a large contingent of German businessmen, said on 10 May. The delegation visited the Hobas Tapo plant in Tashkent, a German-Uzbek joint venture that manufactures plastic piping (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2002). Karimov said there was still a lot of untapped potential as far as trade between their countries was concerned, German radio reported on 10 May.

TURKMENISTAN PRESSING U.S. TO EXTRADITE OPPOSITION LEADER. On 11 May, Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry press service in Ashgabat circulated a commentary saying that the government was demanding the extradition of former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov from the United States, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. Ashgabat has previously demanded Shikhmuradov's extradition from Moscow, where he settled as opposition leader-in-exile last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2002). The Turkmen Prosecutor-General's Office opened criminal cases against him last autumn after he resigned as ambassador to China to become Turkmenistan's most outspoken critic of President Saparmurat Niyazov. Shikhmuradov is accused of appropriating state property and embezzling state funds, illegally selling abroad five MiG jet fighters, more than 11,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, and several million cartridges, enriching himself by about $25 million, ITAR-TASS noted on 11 May. Shikhmuradov has dismissed the charges as politically motivated and in turn accused Niyazov of drug trafficking, ignoring human rights, and turning Turkmenistan into a police state, AP said on the same day.

The statement from the Foreign Ministry said that it had already twice summoned U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan Laura Kennedy to explain Washington's failure to comply with the extradition request, RFE/RL and AP reported. Kennedy "was informed of the Turkmen side's absolute incomprehension why the U.S. had failed to hand him over," the statement said. Shikhmuradov was on the American lecture circuit earlier this month, lambasting Niyazov (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 9 May 2002).

Meanwhile, at a banquet to celebrate Turkmen Remembrance Day on 8 May, Niyazov declared that he was open to criticism and that nobody should be afraid to speak out against him, Altyn Asyr TV reported. Saying that, "the good and bad deeds of every official" should be publicized and scrutinized, Niyazov invited citizens not to spare his faults either: "If you see that even I am growing corrupt, please feel free to discuss it publicly at the Council of Elders: �Hey Mr. President, you're corrupt too in this or that,' so I can mend my ways," he told the television station on 8 May.