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Central Asia Report: June 20, 2002


20 June 2002, Volume 2, Number 24

MARCH ON DJALALABAD. After a five-day, 150-kilometer trek, an 8,000-strong protest march of Kyrgyz supporters of parliamentary deputy Azimbek Beknazarov reached the southern city of Djalalabad on 17 June and started picketing the center of town, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The march began on 12 June, when about 1,200 people set out from the town of Tash-Komur to walk to Djalalabad, where a court was scheduled on 18 June to hear Beknazarov's appeal against last month's decision finding him guilty of abusing his power as a provincial prosecutor in the mid-1990's, a verdict that could strip him of his parliamentary seat and that the opposition has said was politically motivated (see "Kyrgyzstan: Authorities Try Unusual Offer In Effort To Silence Protestors," rferl.org, 18 June 2002). The protestors who started marching from Tash-Komur were demanding that Beknazarov be acquitted and justice be brought against those responsible for the 17-18 March clashes with the police in Aksy Raion that left six Beknazarov supporters dead, RFE/RL said.

By 14 June, the march reached Bazar-Korgon Raion and had grown to 3,000 people, according to opposition estimates, or about half that figure according to pro-government sources. By 17 June, their numbers had swollen to 8,000 people (local police said 1,000) as they arrived in Djalalabad, which the police promptly blocked off to ensure no one else could enter the city and join the protest, a press release from the Kyrgyz Committee on Human Rights said. On 17 June the marchers staged a noisy demonstration in the central square, where they were addressed by Beknazarov, AP reported. In addition to their previous demands, they now called for the resignation of President Askar Akaev, Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev, and other officials connected with the bloodshed in Aksy, RFE/RL said.

The demonstrators had planned a picket of the regional courthouse in Djalalabad. But on 15 June, the authorities suddenly told Beknazarov that the venue for the hearing had been changed to the town of Toktogul, some 300 kilometers to the north. The move was announced officially by Prosecutor-General Abyshkaev only on 17 June (see "RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 15 and 17 June 2002). Beknazarov initially refused to travel to Toktogul for the hearing because he was not informed of the change 10 days in advance, as legally required (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2002). Subsequently he said that he would go, but only on 27 June, since he had received the summons to a new location on 17 June, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. On 19 June, after Beknazarov failed to show up in Toktogul, the court postponed the hearing to 24 June. On the same day the governor of Djalalabad Oblast, Jusupbek Sharipov, met representatives of the protestors and pointed out that there was no reason for them to stay there since the trial had moved. However, he offered them buses to transport them to Toktogul, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service said.

UZBEKISTAN QUITS GUUAM. In the Uzbek capital Tashkent, Deputy Foreign Minister Sadyq Safaev announced on 13 June that Uzbekistan was withdrawing from the GUUAM grouping, and had already notified the other member states of its decision, AP reported. Uzbekistan joined the organization -- a loose political, economic, and strategic alignment of Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova -- in April 1999. Safaev explained that the Uzbek leadership had seen no progress in furthering the tasks that GUUAM's members set themselves and believed that bilateral cooperation among them would be more fruitful approach (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2002).

Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov elaborated on the reasons for Tashkent's dissatisfaction with GUUAM on the following day. "At this stage the international organization's economic dimension is the most important for us," Komilov said, as quoted by gazeta.ru, but he went on to complain, "Experience has proven that before launching such regional projects, a number of domestic and interstate issues must be settled." Both the establishment of a free-trade zone and the promotion of regional economic integration have featured on GUUAM's agenda with no concrete results. Komilov said his government's major disappointment with GUUAM was the failure of the member states to remove legal obstacles for the transportation of goods among them, Turan reported on 14 June. Consequently, he said, it is cheaper for Uzbekistan to export and import goods via non-GUUAM countries (see "Uzbekistan: Tashkent Withdraws From GUUAM, Remaining Members Forge Ahead," rferl.org, 18 June 2002). But at the same time he confirmed that Uzbekistan intended to cooperate with the remaining GUAM states on a one-on-one basis, noting, "we have a high standard of bilateral relations with each member country and will further develop them," gazeta.ru reported on 17 June. Furthermore, Komilov left open the possibility that Uzbekistan might rejoin the group in the future.

Reactions by the remaining GUAM states were muted. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said there was "nothing tragic" about Uzbekistan's decision, although he admitted it would limit the group's future activities, RIA-Novosti reported on 15 June. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko sought to put a positive spin on the news, suggesting on 14 June that the group would now become more efficient "without being burdened by some passive members," Inter Press Service said. Moreover, he suggested that Tashkent's pullout would serve as an incentive for GUAM to consolidate and implement the projects they have agreed on, Interfax reported.

Meanwhile, a statement from the U.S. State Department's press service, reported by RIA-Novosti on 15 June, said it hoped that Tashkent would reconsider its decision to abandoning the organization, calling it a hopeful initiative to strengthen regional ties and cooperation. A State Department official further commented on 14 June that "the GUUAM association has yet to realize its potential in full measure" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2002). Before making its intentions public, on 13 June Tashkent had consulted with visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lynn Pascoe about quitting GUUAM, gazeta.ru said.

As for Moscow, according to the newspaper, it could "hardly conceal its joy." In some Russian circles, GUUAM, which linked countries seeking mechanisms of interaction outside Moscow's influence, has been seen as an attempt to forge an anti-Russian bloc and an alternative to the Russian-dominated CIS. Interfax reported on 14 June that Russian Foreign Ministry sources had blandly commented, "Uzbekistan's decision to quit the organization is its sovereign right," but promptly added, "Experience shows that there are more promising forms of cooperation within the framework of the CIS."

LONG SENTENCES FOR FORMER TURKMEN SECURITY OFFICIALS. On 15 June, Turkmenistan's Supreme Court in the capital Ashgabat sentenced both the ex-chairman of the National Security Committee (KNB, former KGB), Mukhammed Nazarov, and his former deputy, Khayyt Kakaev, to 20 years in prison, with confiscation of their property, for a plethora of crimes including premeditated murder, torture, drug dealing, illegal arrest, procuring prostitutes, bribe taking, fraud, corruption, and abuse of power, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service and the Turkmen State Information Service reported. Simultaneously a former KNB department chief, Allamyrat Allaguliev, was sentenced to 18 years in prison on the same charges, AP said on 18 June. Nazarov, who had once been seen as the second-most-powerful man in Turkmenistan, was fired from his post by President Saparmurat Niyazov in March as part of an official anticorruption campaign that resulted in a wide-scale purge of the country's security services (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 14 March 2002). Criminal charges were brought against Nazarov and 21 of his subordinates from the KNB in early May (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 9 May 2002).

The opposition website gundogar.com commented on 15 June that "Niyazov's court" was "the fastest court in the world." It further noted that the defendants showed no signs of having been treated harshly in pretrial detention, and speculated that, in order to save their lives, even with the hope of eventually being pardoned, they might have cut a deal not to make public certain of Niyazov's secrets to which the KNB was privy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2002). Among those secrets, gundogar.com alleged, were the facts that Niyazov ordered the torture and murder of Turkmen citizens; that the KNB ran a drug-smuggling operation from Afghanistan personally overseen by Niyazov, and that Niyazov had worked hand-in-glove with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, cooperating with them in drug trafficking and supplying them with arms and ammunition.

Continuing his purge of top officials, Niyazov dismissed Deputy Foreign Minister Batyr Khadykuliev for unspecified "serious shortcomings" in his work, turkmenistan.ru reported on 19 June, while the military commissar of Mary Oblast was stripped of his military rank for abusing his official position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2002).

MILITANTS MAKING A COMEBACK? At various forums around Central Asia last week, new assessments were made of the danger that Islamic militancy, terrorism, and extremism poses to Central Asia, particularly by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Taliban remnants. The Pentagon has publicly maintained that the IMU suffered severe losses at the hands of coalition forces in November during the battle for the Afghan city of Kondoz, when it is believed that IMU leader Djuma Namangani was also killed. More recently, however, there have been suggestions that Namangani might be alive and have taken refuge with a group of followers in Tajikistan near the border with Pakistan (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 30 May 2002).

On 13 June in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo held talks with President Askar Akaev on regional security, organized crime, and the struggle against terrorism, and warned that "the military potential of the Taliban is still great and the threat emanating from [Afghanistan] still exists," RIA-Novosti reported. On the following day, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov also met Akaev together with his Kyrgyz counterpart Colonel General Esen Topoev and similarly averred that significant potential for further violent conflict remained in Central Asia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2002).

Ivanov proceeded to chair a two-day session of the Council of CIS Defense Ministers, which began on 14 June in the Kyrgyz town of Cholpon-Ata on the shore of Issyk-Kul Lake, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. At the meeting, Topoev assured his colleagues that there were sufficient Kyrgyz and Tajik troops to repel any fighters in Afghanistan who might attempt to invade Kyrgyzstan, AKIpress reported on 14 June. Asked about previous statements by Kyrgyz Security Council Secretary Misir Ashirkulov that some 2,000 Islamist militants were massed along the Tajik-Kyrgyz frontier, Topoev denied that there were any militants in Tajikistan, but indicated that they were concentrated in northeastern Afghanistan's Badakhshan Province, the news agency said. Ivanov in turn said on 15 June that Central Asia was sufficiently well protected by the CIS Collective Rapid Reaction Forces (CRRF), RIA-Novosti reported.

Meanwhile staff-military exercises involving about 500 CRRF troops from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan began in Bishkek on 12 June, moving a few days later to Kazakhstan, to practice combating an invasion by "bandit formations" -- presumably a euphemism for IMU fighters believed to be based in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2002). On 15 June the CIS defense ministers watched a joint tactical exercise and shooting practice by the CRRF at the Ala-Too training ground in Kyrgyzstan's Chu Province, according to Kabar and RIA-Novosti, and they then departed for Kazakhstan to observe further CRRF exercises, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported.

Two days later, at an international conference in the Tajik capital Dushanbe to mark the fifth anniversary of the treaty that ended Tajikistan's civil war, President Imomali Rakhmonov noted that extremism still threatened the nation's peace and warned that "extremism will exist as long as there is poverty," Asia-Plus Blitz reported on 17 June. On the following day, Rakhmonov met CIS Border Guard commanders in Dushanbe and told them he had received intelligence reports that Islamists hiding in Afghanistan were preparing new large-scale attacks, some of which might be directed against CIS states supporting the international antiterrorist coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June). "Despite the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan, there is evidence that armed groups from the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have maintained their strength," Rakhmonov said as quoted by AP. Also on 18 June, the commander of the Russian Federal Border Guard Service in Tajikistan, Konstantin Totskii, told a press conference that IMU bands were still trying to penetrate the country from Afghanistan and smuggle drugs, Interfax reported. Totskii added that IMU fighters had been detained on the Tajik-Afghan border in February and March, the news agency said.

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