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Turkmen Report: April 22, 2002

22 April 2002
Iranian President Visits Turkmenistan

22 April 2002

Mohammad Khatami arrived in Turkmenistan on Monday for a two-day official visit, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 April. Two rounds of summit talks are to be held in a one-on-one format and at enlarged intergovernmental meetings. The sides are to discuss bilateral economic cooperation, the restoration of Afghanistan, and regional interaction. As a result of the talks, the sides are to sign a number of intergovernmental agreements on long-term trade and economic cooperation between Turkmenistan and Iran. At the close of the official part of his visit Khatami will attend the Caspian summit in Ashgabat on 23 April. A Turkmen Foreign Ministry official said that Khatami will be making his second official visit to Turkmenistan. A 200-kilometer-long transborder gas pipeline with a throughput of 8 billion cubic meters of gas a year was inaugurated during Khatami's first visit in December 1997. The gas pipeline linked the gas supply networks of western Turkmenistan and northern Iran. Partnership in the oil and gas sphere will be the focus of discussions during Khatami's visit, since the export of gas accounts for more than 80 percent of trade turnover between the two states.

According to Turkmen state statistics, this year Turkmenistan plans to deliver 6.5 billion cubic meters of gas to Iran, up from some 2.7 billion cubic meters last year. As a result of the first quarter of the year, Iran has already purchased about 1.5 billion cubic meters of gas. Due to the deliveries of gas, Iran steadily ranks fourth among Turkmenistan's foreign trade partners.

The agenda of the forthcoming Turkmen-Iranian summit talks will also deal with -- among other things -- promoting more active cooperation in railway and automobile transport, solving matters connected with the export of Turkmen-generated electric power, and the irrigation of border areas. (ITAR-TASS)

Caspian And Central Asian Telecom Ministers To Meet In Istanbul In May

22 May 2002

Ministers and senior figures from the telecommunications ministries of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan will meet at a major three-day communications summit in Istanbul on 22 May.

The goal of the summit is to discuss regional cooperation and socioeconomic development through investments in national and regional telecommunications networks, Itesa-Osiyo/ITE Uzbekistan told UzA (Uzbekistan National News Agency) on 18 April.

Senior ministry representatives from Russia and Iran will also participate in the summit alongside delegations from the European Commission, the UN, the World Bank, the International Telecommunications Union, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The ministers will discuss a variety of telecommunications issues in the region, including the development of their sections of the 20,000-km-long Trans-Asia-European optic-fiber cable running from China to Germany, as well as development of the Russian and Central Asian satellite network. Investment into the development of Internet technologies in the region is also expected to be high on the summit agenda. (UzA)

Turkmen President Has New Proposals For Caspian Summit

19 April 2002

Saparmurat Niyazov is expected to put forth a number of new proposals at the summit of the Caspian Sea countries in Ashgabat. These proposals include dividing the sea surface, navigation regulations, the use of biological resources, and other Caspian issues, sources in the Turkmen government told Interfax on 19 April.

The sources said that "the president personally worked on key aspects of these proposals, which is why the right to make public all the details and nuances belongs only to him." The sources told Interfax that "although the president's views are strictly in line with his country's national interests, they take a maximal account of the interests of other partners, as well as respect their views and opinions."

The initiative to hold a meeting of the presidents of the Caspian countries was Niyazov's, as in 2000 the Turkmen president declared that the talks on the Caspian Sea that had been conducted by working groups, experts, and diplomats for a few years were exhausted and that the current situation required "a drastically new approach to the Caspian problem" with the direct involvement of top officials.

Niyazov said that today relations between the five Caspian countries should "be transformed into a true partnership, and that the ideology of cooperation should be brought to a qualitatively new level in line with the realities of today and the new conditions in which the peoples of the Caspian Sea countries live," the sources said.

The authorities in Ashgabat disagree with some media reports that the upcoming summit will be focused only on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, and that the success of the meeting depends only on whether this problem is resolved, the source said.

"The Caspian status is highly unlikely to be determined in the course of one meeting, as each state has its own opinion on its division, delimitation, and other issues," the sources said.

Ashgabat sees the main goal of the summit as "ensuring that further relations between the five states and peoples are determined not by a compass and ruler, but by a generally accepted political platform of cooperation whose fundamental principles will be worked out by the presidents." (Interfax)

Caspian Summit To Be Held Amid Security Measures

19 April 2002

The summit on the Caspian Sea is to be held amid tight security measures in Ashgabat, Turkmen capital, IRNA reported on 19 April. Turkmen police are to tighten security in streets and places around the venue of the summit.

The Caspian Sea states -- Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan -- have already agreed to convene in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat between 23-24 April in order to discuss the legal status of the inland waters.

The summit is expected to bring the positions of the participants closer in the negotiating process and to give it an additional impetus. Iran's special envoy for Caspian Sea affairs, Mehdi Safari, was on a groundbreaking visit to Turkmenistan recently before the scheduled participation of President Mohammad Khatami in the forthcoming summit of the coastal states of Caspian Sea in Ashgabat.

The five coastal states of the sea still have to come up with a formula over the legal regime of the sea to exploit its resources. Iran calls for a condominium or common sovereignty on the sea and has made it known that it considers any unilateral deals for energy exploration in the Caspian Sea as null and void before the issue of legal regime of the Caspian is settled.

Iran believes the agreements of 1921 and 1940 between Moscow and Tehran are still valid until a new legal regime of the Caspian Sea is drawn up. Safari recently dismissed earlier as "unsubstantiated" reports on the sharing of the energy-rich Caspian Sea. He said that no new agreement has been achieved among the Caspian Sea countries on the legal status of the Caspian Sea.

He said the agreements signed in 1921 and 1940 between Iran and the then-Soviet Union are currently considered the valid documents on the Caspian Sea. Safari point out that Iran continues to hold its policy on the Caspian sea which consists of giving a 20 percent share to all states surrounding it. The summit of chiefs of state of the Caspian Sea countries is to discuss how to come to an agreement to distribute the seabed resources of the land-locked sea. (IRNA)

Disputed Areas In Caspian Cannot Be Developed Until Legal Status Of Sea Defined

19 April 2002

A source within the Turkmen government told Interfax, on condition of anonymity, on 19 April that it is impossible to talk about to whom certain disputed areas in the Caspian Sea belong until the legal status of the sea is completely defined.

"As there have never been actual state borders in the Caspian Sea, until the legal status of the sea is defined, possibly on the basis of its division into national sectors, disputed areas cannot belong to anybody in principle, and therefore they cannot be unilaterally developed, researched, or used," the source said.

Ashgabat believes that "if bilateral talks fail to establish to whom these disputable areas belong, the issue could be passed to an international court or other special international structures, which is a worldwide practice in such situations," he said.

This approach "is based on commonly recognized international legal standards and basic principles of respect for the sovereignty and national dignity of states as stipulated by the UN Charter," he said. At the same time, the source noted that "Ashgabat is open to a constructive and concrete discussion on the basis of mutual respect, equality, and trust." (Interfax)

Turkmen, Pakistani, Afghan Leaders To Meet In May In Ashgabat

19 April 2002

The head of the Afghan interim administration, Hamid Karzai, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov are expected to hold a trilateral meeting in Ashgabat in early May.

Sources in the Turkmen presidential administration told Interfax on 19 April that this agreement was reached in a telephone conversation between the leaders of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan the same day. The planned meeting is expected to focus on the possible construction of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, via Afghanistan, that has been planned for a few years.

A 1,460-kilometer pipeline may be built from the Turkmen city of Dowletabat through Kandahar to Multan in Pakistan. The pipeline will have a capacity of 15 billion cubic meters of gas a year, which is to be later increased to 20 billion cubic meters.

The construction will cost $2 billion, with another $500 million required if it is extended to India.

Niyazov told Karzai that the country's construction organization has already completed work on power lines to neighboring Afghan provinces that are expected to start carrying electricity to Andhoi, Shibirgan, Mazar-i-Sharif, and other cities in northern Afghanistan. (Interfax)

Turkish Company To Build Cement Mill In Turkmenistan

19 April 2002

A Turkish company will build a cement mill worth $160 million in Turkmenistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 April.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed a decree to this effect on 18 April during a cabinet meeting that dealt with projects of new industrial facilities. The new mill is to produce one million tons of high-grade cement a year, which will ensure the implementation of large-scale plans for industrial and housing construction in the country, Niyazov told the cabinet. He entrusted the construction of the mill to "the tried and reliable Turkish partner Ahmed Calik" -- chief of the GAP Inshaat Yatirim ve dis Ticaret Anonim Sirketi company, which has concluded a number of building contracts in Turkmenistan over the past two years to the tune of more than $800 million.

According to the data from the National Institute of State Statistics and Information, 448,000 tons of cement was produced in Turkmenistan last year, which covered only one-half of the national building organizations' requirements. High-grade cement is imported mainly from neighboring countries Iran and Uzbekistan. The new mill will be situated near the Kelyata township in the Bakharden district. It will begin producing in August 2004.

The work to design and build the mill, the decree specified, will be financed in two stages: the first with the resources of Turkmenistan's State Foundation for the Development of the Oil and Gas Industry and Mineral Resources, and the subsequently stage with the country's currency reserve stocks. (ITAR-TASS)

Turkmen President Not Pleased With Mass Media

18 April 2002

Saparmurat Niyazov chaired a session of the Turkmen government on 18 April during which he emphasized the vast shortcomings in the work of Turkmen TV, radio, print media, and the Turkmen State News Service, CNA reported the next day. The president called upon the proper departments of the government to undertake urgent measures for bringing a radical change to the situation. According to Niyazov the Turkmen media are failing to organize their work to meet present-day requirements. (CNA)

Another Former Turkmen Government Official Joins Opposition

17 April 2002

On 17 April, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service received a statement by Aleksandr Dodonov, the former deputy chairman of Turkmenistan's parliament who also served as the former deputy premier and minister of water management, in which he talks of joining the opposition. The following is the text of his statement for the press:

"Events of recent years in Turkmenistan confirm to me ideas about the extreme necessity for cardinal changes in the development of society and the economy of the country, in which I was born, grew up, and worked many long years side by side with many thousands of Turkmen people, aspiring to develop the huge potential of the country, both material, and human, which has brought a blessing to the people and honor and respect to Turkmenistan. However, the regime of the country's government, of which Mr. Saparmurat Niyazov usurped all branches of authority, calling it the 'Turkmen model of building a democratic society,' does not even allow for the hope of any positive advance of the country and society toward progress. The tendency to conceal the true state of affairs in the economy is more evident. More often what is desirable is given for reality, especially in agriculture and water management, areas that are in line with my former areas of activity. Against the background of worsening degradation and disorder of water-management systems and, which is especially disturbing, the main waterway of the country -- the Kara Kum canal, the task to construct a so-called 'Turkmen Sea' is proclaimed, but the realization is carried out with inadequate forces and means. The problem of the gathering and export of highly mineralized waters beyond the limits of the agricultural grounds, which is a real but not new problem for irrigated agriculture in Turkmenistan, has been raised to the main condition of well-being for the Turkmen people, however, just as all ideas sounded by Saparmurat Niyazov are. In practice, his profuse, amateurish talks on this issue have practically discredited the important problem and have diverted significant financial and material means from more important and essential tasks of branch development. The consequences of the vicious practice toward solving vital problems of water management are evidently reflected in the agricultural results. The systematic, from year to year, drop in efficiency of irrigated agriculture, and the steady decrease in volumes of gross production of raw cotton are known to everybody. However, the official propaganda in Turkmenistan more strongly blows up the myths of fantastic 'record' volumes of cotton and grain harvests, praising the 'ingenious merits' of the president in these 'successes,' and the country's parliament gives Niyazov the title 'The Hero of Turkmenistan.' Examples of similar "management" can be found in practically any other sector of the economy and is leading the country not to prosperity, but just the opposite -- it casts it many years back.

All of the populist statements of Niyazov only aggravate the state of affairs, and the chorus of trusted lackeys strengthens his ill consciousness of infallibility, in the seemingly correctness of the authoritative course, and the methods of its realization.

In this connection, it is natural to see that recently more and more people who truly care for the destiny of their country have declared the necessity of resolute action to change the situation in Turkmenistan. Now there is a process of their consolidation and organizational association for the sake of the true revival of the country and it's ablution from Niyazov's heritage. For this reason I think it's necessary for me to join the National Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan (NDMT) in order to promote the achievement of purposes proclaimed by the NDMT." (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Working Group On Caspian Summit To Meet

16 April 2002

The deputy foreign ministers of Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, who make up a working group in charge of preparations for the summit meeting of Caspian littoral states, will have an extraordinary meeting in Ashgabat on 22 April, well-informed sources told ITAR-TASS on 16 April. A high-ranking Russian official told ITAR-TASS that "the group will have a run-up meeting ahead of the summit, scheduled for 23-24 April in Ashgabat." The official said that a solution to the issues pertaining to the legal status of the Caspian Sea could be found at the summit. "The sides are now coordinating their positions on how to tackle the Caspian Sea problems, they will still have to finalize a range of documents," the expert said.

The legal status of the sea is regulated by the Soviet-Iranian agreements of 1921 and 1940, he said. "They are somewhat outdated now, failing to meet all the requirements of our time," the expert said. "The very number of Caspian littoral countries has grown to five from the previous two [when the Soviet Union existed." The official also admitted that earlier talks on the Caspian Sea problems had left out the environmental issues, which have been in the spotlight lately. (ITAR-TASS)

Turkmenistan's GDP Reportedly Rises Significantly In First Quarter

15 April 2002

According to an Interfax report on 15 April, Turkmenistan's GDP went up 10.8 percent in the first quarter of 2002 as compared with the first quarter of 2001, and amounted to 7.8 trillion manats, says a report of the National Institute of State Statistics and Information.

The large growth in GDP resulted from an increase in added value of 15 percent in industries, 9 percent in agriculture, 11 percent in transport and communication services, and 15 percent in trade.

The largest growth of added value was registered in the oil processing industry (52 percent), light industry (33 percent), and the food industry (25 percent), the report says.

The official exchange rate on 15 April was 5,200 manats to the dollar. (Interfax)

A Rare Act Of Public Protest In Turkmenistan?

17 April 2002

By Bruce Pannier

There were demonstrations outside the building of the country's Committee for National Security (KNB), the successor to the KGB. Those who gathered criticized the heavy hand the KNB has used against their relatives and friends. The police did not move to break up the protests. The KNB is currently in disgrace after Turkmenistan's president recently dismissed the spy organization's top officials. There was something of a surprise early this week when some 300 people gathered outside the building of Turkmenistan's Committee for National Security (KNB) to protest the actions of the organization, the successor to the Soviet KGB.

A demonstration against any government body in Turkmenistan is a risk. Protesting outside the building of the organization dedicated to keeping one of the region's most repressive governments in power would seem the surest way to spend a long time in jail -- or worse. That demonstrators gathered for a second day -- albeit in smaller numbers -- is remarkable. Who organized these rare acts of public protest in Turkmenistan? And were they really acts of protest? There seems to be more to this tale than is revealed at first glance.

On 15 April and again on 16 April, protesters assembled in front of the building that houses Turkmenistan's notorious KNB. The numbers had dwindled to about 50 people on the second day, but it was strange that police made no effort to stop the demonstrations.

Attempts to protest Turkmen government policies in 1995 led to the arrests of the organizers, who were then branded "drug addicts" and thrown in jail. Some later died there. That was the last public demonstration of discontent in Turkmenistan, barring a few minor rallies against the destruction of homes to make way for roads and new buildings.

The KNB is actually a safe target. Just last month, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov started a purge of the KNB, removing top officials in the spy organization and disclosing to the public that the organization had abused its duties.

Niyazov said the head of the KNB, Mukhammet Nazarov, had stockpiled narcotics and sold them instead of simply confiscating and destroying them. Niyazov said rooms in the KNB building were used for torture and rape by KNB officials. The Turkmen president said the guilty could buy their freedom from corrupt KNB officials and choose to incriminate the innocent instead. So the demonstrations outside the building of the disgraced Committee for National Security could be attributed to a rare opportunity for the public to vent their anger and hammer the final nails into the coffin of the previous KNB leadership.

People did come to complain about the treatment their relatives had received from the KNB under the former spy bosses, but what some in the crowd said casts doubt on the spontaneity of the event. That Turkmenistan's KNB was brutal has been cited in numerous complaints from human rights organizations. One protester, a Turkmen woman, told a tale of abuse at the hands of the KNB:

"We knew earlier [about the KNB's viciousness] but were afraid to say anything. There was a handsome young man they sent to prison for nothing. When he refused to confess to the crimes they charged him with, they pulled out his fingernails. He died in prison. I helped bury him myself. After he died, they came and arrested his brother."

The woman said that during the funeral, when grieving friends and relatives gathered, the father of the dead boy asked those attending the funeral not to complain about the torture his son had undergone at the hands of the KNB. He said he feared his other son, also under arrest, would suffer a similar fate if people caused a scandal.

Another protester told the story of her brother, who was imprisoned and beaten by the KNB: "I am from Balkanabad (region). When my brother was in the Turkmenbashi prison, I asked him who was beating him, and he said. 'If I tell you and I'm freed, they will come and beat me some more.'"

Certainly, there is reason in Turkmenistan to fear the KNB, but the same people who came to complain said they had also come for another reason: "I came to thank Poran Berdiev, [to] thank him for helping the people, for making decisions fairly. What brought me here was the former leaders of the KNB. My brother was beaten 11 months ago, and I came to make sure this does not happen in the future." Poran Berdiev is the man who is now the head of the KNB. He has been in that position for approximately two weeks.

Taken at face value, this week's rallies would seem to be the acts of public protest that organizations monitoring human rights and democratic freedoms have so often complained are impossible in repressive Turkmenistan. Human rights organizations and Central Asian analysts following events in Turkmenistan would readily say that nothing is done in Turkmenistan without President Niyazov's approval.

The campaign against the KNB may only be Niyazov's attempt at showing the public he is not involved in corrupt practices and is genuinely committed to halting such misdeeds.

Berdiev has found a solution to public protests by creating a special time -- on Mondays 1500 and 1800 -- when people can come and air their complaints. In the meantime, the protests against the KNB have gone unreported in Turkmenistan's media. (RFE/RL)