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Kazakh Report: January 5, 2001


5 January 2001

CENTRAL ASIAN ECONOMIC UNION LEADERS MEET IN ALMATY.
Tajikistan's President Imomali Rakhmonov chaired a session of the Central Asian Economic Union in Almaty on 5 January. Presidents Nursultan Nazarbaev (Kazakhstan), Askar Akaev (Kyrgyzstan) and Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan) opened the summit with short speeches emphasising the importance of regional security. The situation along the Tajik-Afghan border, the incursions by radical Islamic militants into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan last summer, and economic co-operation between the four countries were discussed.

It is not clear in what depth the issue of natural gas supplies from Uzbekistan to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan was discussed, or whether agreement was reached on that issue. Uzbekistan recently cut its natural gas deliveries to those states, demanding higher fees. Arystan Esentugelov, the Director of Strategic Research Institute in Almaty told RFE/RL on the eve of the summit:

"There are no relatives in economic issues. Uzbekistan curtailed the volume of natural gas deliveries to Kazakhstan, asking for more fees from the Kazakh side. In current conditions, when the price of such major energy resources as oil and gas is getting higher in the international market, that move of Uzbekistan is understandable. But one more thing Uzbekistan has to keep in mind is the fact that Kazakhstan is the major consumer of its natural gas in the Central Asian region, in other words Kazakhstan is the main market for Uzbek natural gas producers. The Kazakh market for Uzbek natural gas cannot be compared with Kyrgyz and Tajik markets, which are very small."

The four presidents decided to rename the Central Asian Economic Union the Central Asian Economic Forum, and to designate this year as the year of Mountains in Central Asia. It was also decided that experts from the four countries should examine the operations of the Central Asian Development Bank.

The next summit of the Central Asian Economic Forum is to be held in Tashkent in April-May this year.

OKIOC TO START NEW DRILLING IN QASHAGHAN THIS YEAR.
Managing Director Michael Holgate said on 5 January that the OKIOC consortium is planning to start new drilling in East Qashaghan this spring. Drilling works are currently underway in West Qashaghan. Meanwhile environmentalists in western Kazakhstan are protesting the consortium's operations along Caspian shore, saying that first the rules on protection of local eco-systems should be adopted. Ibragim Qoshenov, who heads the "Kaspiy-21" movement, told RFE/RL correspondents that the ecological situation in the Atyrau and Aqtau areas of western Kazakhstan is badly affected by the operations of oil companies working in the region. He said that a legislative basis protecting the environment should be defined first.

FORUM OF DEMOCRATIC FORCES OF KAZAKHSTAN APPEALS TO U.S. CONGRESS.
The editor-in-Chief of the newspaper "XXI vek" (21st century), Bigeldy Gabdullin, told RFE/RL on 5 January that Kazakhstan's Forum of Democratic Forces sent an open letter to the U.S. Congress this week. Gabdullin said the letter was addressed to U.S. politicians in order to persuade them to return about $100 million to Kazakhstan in the event that President Nazarbaev, his advisor on oil and economic issues James Giffen, and some other Kazakh officials are found guilty of bribery. The scandal around Kazakhstan's oil money known as KAZAKHGATE started at the end of 1999. Some bank accounts belonging to Kazakh government and Kazakh officials were impounded by Swiss authorities after the U.S. Justice Department started investigating James Giffen's case.

The letter addressed to the U.S. Congress was signed not only by leaders and activists of opposition parties and movements, but also by Parliament deputies Serikbolsyn Abdildin, Tatyana Kviyatkovskaya, Serik Abdrakhmanov and others. A copy of the letter was handed to the U.S. Embassy in Almaty.

NAME OF THIRD KAZAKH COSMONAUT ANNOUNCED.
Russia's RosAviaKosmos Agency announced on 5 January that military pilot Ruslan Mukhametrakhimov will be Kazakhstan's third cosmonaut, Interfax reported. Mukhametrakhimov was reportedly permitted to take part in special training at the cosmonauts training Centre in Moscow. If he complete that course of training successfully, he will be granted Cosmonauts' Diploma. But it is not clear whether he will be a member of the crew scheduled to start working aboard the MIR space station in February.

Kazakhstan's first cosmonaut Tokhtar Aubakirov was in space in 1992. The second Kazakh cosmonaut, Talghat Musabaev, has completed two cosmic missions since then.

FIRST GROUP OF KAZAKH CITIZENS DEPORTED FROM BELGIUM EXPECTED IN ALMATY ON 5 JANUARY.
Kazakhstan Today News Agency reported on 4 January that a special plane will bring the first group of Kazakh citizens from Belgium to Almaty on January 5. That group, which numbers 30-40 people, is being sent back to Kazakhstan following the Belgian government's decision not to grant refugee status to about 2,500 Kazakh citizens who asked for political asylum in Belgium. The Kazakh citizens arrived in Belgium with the help of travel agencies based in Almaty and decided to defect. But the Belgian authorities decided after a thorough examination of their documents not to grant them political asylum (see "RFE/RL Kazakh Report," 1 December 2000).

FOUR FISHERMEN RESCUED IN CASPIAN SEA.
Representatives of Atyrau Oblast's Emergency Situations Department told RFE/RL on 4 January that four fishermen (Qushanov, Bainitdinov, Assanbaev and Tashenov) were found by the Department's helicopter the previous night. The four fishermen had been lost upon a drifting ice-floe on January 1. All the fishermen were found in satisfactory condition and were briefly hospitalised, but discharged on 4 January.

ALASH PARTY TO HOLD ADDITIONAL PROTEST ACTIONS AGAINST LAW ON LAND.
The leaders of the Alash Party told journalists at a press conference in Almaty on 4 January that they are going to organise more actions of protest in order to persuade President Nazarbaev not to sign the new law on land, which was approved by both chambers of the Kazakh Parliament last month. Also on 4 January, three persons (two Kazakh repatriates from Karakapakistan and one resident of Almaty) started a hunger strike to protest that law. Parties and movements opposing the law are demanding that it be revised to take into account their specific objections. They also say that land in Kazakhstan should not be either privatised or sub-leased.

INMATES OF KAZAKHSTAN'S JAILS STARTED BEING RELEASED IN ACCORDANCE WITH AMNESTY DECREE.
Some 27, 000 prisoners are expected to be released from Kazakhstan's penitentiary system in the first 6 months of 2001 in accordance with an amnesty decree signed in late December by President Nazarbaev. RFE/RL correspondents conducted a short poll among residents of Almaty on 4 January. The majority of respondents expressed their support for the release of some prisoners. They say that many prisoners were impelled to commit minor crimes due to the economic hardships faced by Kazakh society nowadays. Some Almaty citizens are sure that Nazarbaev signed the amnesty decree because prison authorities are unable to provide sufficient food and clothes for inmates. Some respondents expressed anxiety that the released prisoners might spread tuberculosis among the population.

CITIZEN OF ALMATY TO STAGE ACTION OF SELF-IMMOLATION IN FRONT OF PRESIDENTIAL PALACE.
Gulshat Rysbaeva announced on 4 January that she plans to commit self-immolation in front of the presidential palace in Almaty on January 8. Rysbayeva, who is an economist by profession, recently lost her job. Her husband, an engineer, and her son are also unemployed. Rysbaeva told journalists that she has no choice but to stage such an action. She also said that she had asked the Almaty mayor for permission to do so, but that the municipal authorities have not responded so far. Rysbaeva said that Nazarbaev's regime has not left ordinary citizens of Kazakhstan any other means of protecting their rights. Alash Party leader Savetqazy Aqatay told RFE/RL that self-immolation is not a real method of political activity.

KAZAKH COSMONAUT PREPARES FOR WORK ABOARD MIR.
Meirbek Moldabekov, the Chief of the Kazakh State Space Research Agency, said on 3 January that Kazakh cosmonaut Talghat Musabaev will be a member of the space research crew scheduled to work aboard the MIR space station next month. According to Moldabekov, the crew will spend two or three weeks in the earth's orbit, in order to prepare the 15-year-old MIR station for dismantling and destruction. MIR is expected to fall into the Pacific Ocean this year. Moldabekov reportedly left for Moscow the same day to discuss the flight with his Russian counterparts.

WELL-KNOWN KAZAKH DEMOGRAPHER CLAIMS THE NUMBER OF KAZAKHS HAS RISEN TO 13 MILLION.
Well-known Kazakh demographer Maqash Tatim told correspondents of the 1 State TV channel on 2 January that the number of Kazakhs in the world reached 13 million on the eve of the Third Millennium. Tatim repeated that claim to RFE/RL the following day. He said his calculations are based upon data received through special polls in 41 countries, including Kazakhstan.

But Kazakh Scientist Baqyt Sadyqova told RFE/RL that she does not trust Tatim's data. According to Sadyqova, it is too difficult to define the exact number of ethnic Kazakhs in the world today. She says that even the precise number of ethnic Kazakhs living in Kazakhstan itself is not clear, since the exact results of the 1999 nation-wide census held have never been made public.

KAZAKH PARLIAMENT DISCUSSES LAW ON REFUGEES.
At its 3 January session the lower Chamber of Kazakh Parliament (the Mazhilis) discussed Kazakhstan's law on refugees. The head of Kazakhstan's State Agency for Migration and Demography, Altynshash Zhaghanova told deputies that it is necessary to define the status of Chechen refugees in Kazakhstan. The number of Chechen refugees who fled from the war in Chechnya is increasing in Kazakhstan. According to Zhaghanova, no Chechens have been classified as refugees in Kazakhstan. They enter the country as citizens of the Russian Federation. There are no legal grounds to grant refugee status to the Chechens who fled the war in Chechnya, Zhaghanova said, adding that doing so might cause political problems between Moscow and Astana. Zhaghanova also told RFE/RL that ethnic Kazakhs coming to Kazakhstan from "hot spots", such as Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, receive the status of repatriate, not that of refugee.

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