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Turkmen Report: March 25, 2000

25 March 2000
US Deplores Trial Of Dissident Nurberdy Nurmamedov
March 19, 2000

"The United States deeply deplores the circumstances of the arrest, trial and February 25 sentencing of Turkmen political activist Nurberdy Nurmamedov," the U.S. Department of State Spokesman James Rubin said in an official statement on March 17.

Rubin said that "the handling of Mr. Nurmamedov's case falls far short of any acceptable standard of judicial due process." The American official also mentioned that "U.S. and other foreign diplomats were denied the right to observe the proceedings (of the court)" and called Nurmamedov's case an example of "Turkmenistan's continued disregard for internationally-recognized human rights."

James Rubin called on the government of Turkmenistan to hold a new trial for Nurberdy Nurmamedov, to release his son Murat, "who was never arrested or formally charged," and "to fully live up to its OSCE commitments and respect the rights of its citizens." (RFE/RL Turkmen Service - U.S. State Department)

Amnesty International Criticizes Nurmamedov's Trial
March 21, 2000

International human rights organization Amnesty International issued "Fear for Safety / Harsh Prison Conditions / Prisoner of Conscience / Unfair Trial" statement regarding the trial and sentencing of Nurberdy Nurmamedov.

The statement says that "Nurberdy Nurmamedov, co-chair of the opposition movement Agzybirlik and one of the few opposition figures to openly criticize President Saparmurad Niyazov's policies, is a prisoner of conscience detained solely because of his peaceful opposition activities."

Amnesty International mentions that during the appeal hearing, Nurberdy Nurmamedov's lawyers "left the courtroom before the end of the appeal procedure to protest against violations of fair trial standards. Another defense lawyer was not informed by the authorities that the appeal hearing was going to take place." (RFE/RL Turkmen Service - Amnesty International)

Opposition Leader Speaks Out Before Hearing In US
March 20, 2000

In the view of Avdy Kuliev, leader of the Turkmen political opposition in exile, U.S. government could do more about human rights abuses in Turkmenistan.

Speaking to Central Eurasia Project in New York two days before he was scheduled to testify before the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Kuliev said U.S. "could achieve a great deal more by force of its principled positions. Instead, it curries favor with Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, (...) countries, (where) human rights are so trampled that most people clamor for the return of the Soviet Union."

When asked about his hopes for the hearing, Kuliev said that he wants to see "adaptation of diplomatic and economic sanctions against Turkmenistan and the release of Nurberdy Nurmamedov."

Kuliev also commented on President Niyazov's adherence to Islam by saying that "the president has an interest in Islam only as a vehicle, not for Islam's sake. He has no interest in anything but personal enrichment." (RFE/RL Turkmen Service - Central Eurasia Project)

US Commission Studies Turkmenistan's Rights Record
March 21, 2000

The U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today branded Turkmenistan as one of the "worst-case scenarios" of post-Soviet development.

RFE/RL's correspondent reports the commission members and those who testified before it in Washington D.C. painted a bleak picture, where all political and civil rights are ignored or abused and where freedom of religion is routinely violated.

Chris Smith, who chaired the Commission's hearing on democratization and human rights in Turkmenistan, said that much in Turkmenistan today recalls the rule of the late Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu.

But John Beyrle, Special Adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for the New Independent States, argued for continued U.S. engagement with Turkmenistan.

Beyrle said it was better to try to influence from the inside, than to attempt democratic change from afar. (RFE/RL NCA)

CPJ Press Report Critical Of Turkmenistan
March 22, 2000

Committee to Protect Journalists' "Attack on the Press in 1999" annual report says that among all the countries of the former Soviet Union, Turkmenistan stands out as having the most repressive climate for journalists.

CPJ asserts that President Saparmurat Niyazov has created what it called a cult of personality not seen since the days of Stalin. CPJ concluded that press freedom is totally absent in Turkmenistan. It also said that the Turkmen service of Radio Liberty is one of the only sources of independent news in the country. (RFE/RL - CPJ)

Turkmen Newspaper Publishes Slander Article On RFE/RL Turkmen Service Director
March 24, 2000

A letter, published by Turkmen weekly newspaper Adalat and claiming to reflect the views of the Turkmen living abroad who had personally known the Director of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service Zarif Nazar, says Nazar has betrayed his family and Turkmen traditions, caused a number of scandals among Afghani Turkmens, and had been charged with "terrorism and murder of three state officials." The letter says that "Zarif and others like him cannot submit to the fact that our fatherland is flourishing under the leadership of Turkmenbashi (Niyazov)." (Adalat)

TUrkmenistan's President Niyazov Meets With PSG Head
March 20, 2000

Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov met on Monday with Edward Smith, the president and CEO of PSG, the operator of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project.

As earlier reported, the Trans-Caspian consortium was given the task of submitting to Turkmenistan proposals concerning project implementation a month ago, including proposed export volumes, prices, the terms for preliminary financing, the timetable for organizing financing, and the start of actual construction work.

PSG presented the proposals at the meeting today, but Turkmenistan said the proposals did not specifically address the remaining issues.

Niyazov said that Turkmenistan's position is "exceedingly clear and consistent." Unfortunately, it has not met with an adequate approach from its project partners, who have constantly backtracked on previously agreed terms and conditions, adding new components to the project and putting up obstacles to implementation, he said.

Given its huge reserves of natural gas, Turkmenistan has the right to insist on serious export volumes, he said. Niyazov also reaffirmed Turkmenistan's right to use the pipeline to export 16 billion cubic meters a year to Turkey and 14 billion cubic meters to European countries. (Interfax)

Turkmenistan Does Not Extend Mandate of US Company
March 20, 2000

Turkmenistan's president today refused to extend the mandate of a United States company as the founder-sponsor of the Trans-Caspian Pipeline Consortium.

The press service for President Saparmurat Niyazov said the PSG company mandate expired on February 19. The press service said the company had not met a one-month deadline to submit specific proposals for building a pipeline to carry Turkmen natural gas along the Caspian Sea bed.

Niyazov said negotiations will continue with the U.S. company but in the meantime his country will conduct talks with other parties interested in buying Turkmen natural gas. Turkmenistan recently has been negotiating with Russia's Gazprom and the Iranian Oil Ministry. (RFE/RL NCA - ITAR-TASS)

Niyazov Doubts Swift Start To Trans-Caspian Pipeline
March 22, 2000

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has said he doubts that construction of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline will begin in the near future.

Niyazov expressed his misgivings at a Wednesday meeting with officials from Shell International.

Shell and PSG of the U.S. share the rights to the project, which will lay a pipeline from Turkmenistan across the Caspian Sea and through Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey. Under the project's timetable, construction is to begin early next year and be completed within two years.

The proposals on the future development of the project PSG submitted earlier this week "do not take into account our national and economic interests, and are constituted in such a way as to delay the project," Niyazov said. "The process has come to a standstill, but it is not our fault."

Turkmenistan is prepared to increase natural gas exports through Iran and Russia, he noted, and the country has the opportunity to build a 60-kilometer pipeline from Serakhs in Turkmenistan to Mashhad in Iran. The pipeline could be used to export 50 billion-60 billion cubic meters of gas to Iran's northern regions per year, he said.

Niyazov announced that Shell and PSG could continue to work together to draw up new proposals for further development of the Trans-Caspian project. However, further negotiations will be impossible without a financial package including the terms of preliminary financing. (Interfax)

Turkmenistan Gets New Terms For Gas Pipeline
March 23, 2000

A U.S. government official says Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov has been presented with improved financial terms for the trans-Caspian gas pipeline which are expected to advance the project.

The new incentives are said to include reduced project costs, a shorter payback period and a "very attractive" figure for the effective gas price, once delivery charges to Turkey are taken into account.

The new plan was presented to Niyazov on Monday by PSG International, the U.S.-led consortium for the project, at a meeting in Ashgabat. A PSG spokesman described the plan as the company's "last and final" proposal, according to Platt's, a petroleum industry news service.

The consortium has revised its financial terms since last month, when Niyazov complained that a combination of project costs and Azerbaijan's demands for a half-share in the pipeline's capacity could keep Turkmenistan from realizing any profit for seven or eight years.

So far, Niyazov has not renewed PSG's one-year mandate for the project, which expired February 19 but was extended for one month. Niyazov is said to be studying the new plan. (RFE/RL NCA)

Russian Company Finishes Drilling Of Caspian Sea Well
March 23, 2000

Lukoil, the biggest Russian oil company, announced today in Moscow that drilling of a first well in the Russian sector of the Caspian Sea has been completed.

Lukoil said that initial estimates suggest that oil reserves might amount to 300 million tons.

There is a still a legal dispute going on over the division of Caspian Sea resources. Iran, which recently began searching for oil in its section of the Caspian, insists the sea should be divided into equal shares. But countries with rich offshore resources say the Caspian should be divided into national sectors. (RFE/RL NCA - DPA)

Azeri Oil Boss Rejects Turkmen Suggestion To Hold Summit On Caspian Status
March 24, 2000

"Azerbaijan has formed a working group made up of Foreign Ministry experts," Natig Aliyev, the president of State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic, has told MPA news agency in Baku, commenting on the Turkmen president's proposal to hold a summit of the Caspian littoral states to determine the status of the Caspian Sea.

As the head of the state oil company noted, such working groups have been set up in all Caspian littoral states and they discuss this problem periodically.

The SOCAR president thinks that the sides so far have many differences in their positions, for example, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan cannot agree on the issue of determining the median line of the Caspian Sea, dividing it into national sectors. For this reason, Aliyev said, it is hard to believe in the holding of a summit with the participation of the heads of the Caspian littoral states.

Baku would suggest the resumption of the negotiations of the working group to tackle and remove the existing barriers and then to conduct a meeting of the heads of states. Aliyev thinks that "though Turkmenistan has stated that Kyapaz deposit belongs to it, this is premature". None of the sides can "appropriate" the disputed deposit in the Caspian Sea until the issue of the median line and the status of the Caspian Sea are resolved. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Azerbaijani news agency MPA)

Turkmenistan Ready To Resume Gas Exports To Ukraine
March 24, 2000

Turkmenistan has said it plans to resume natural gas exports to Ukraine, the chief executive of Ukrainian national company Neftegaz Ukrainy said on Friday.

Igor Bakai, speaking at a news conference in Kiev, showed a letter in which Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov made the assurances to his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma.

Bakai said Neftegaz Ukrainy last year cleared arrears of $238.7 million for Turkmen gas, supplying goods worth $230 million and paying off the rest with hard currency.

The Ukrainian company also provided construction and assembly services under projects in Turkmenistan.

By May 21, 1999, the Turkmenneftegaz company had supplied Neftegaz Ukrainy with 8.76 billion cubic meters of gas worth $315.5 million.

Neftegaz Ukrainy has committed itself to paying 60% of the cost of Turkmen gas with goods and construction and assembly services and the rest with hard currency. (Interfax)

Turkmenistan Signs Equipment Deal With German Firms
March 19, 2000

From the Turkmen TV Channel 1 report: "In order to implement an independent oil policy, the Turkmen state oil concern has concluded contracts with the German Mannesmann and Siemens companies worth DM60m. A large batch of equipment aimed at improving the southern and western oil and gas deposits [of Turkmenistan] has been received under these contracts. This equipment will create broad opportunities for the state concern to carry out prospecting work at the promising [western] Korpedzhe and southern Gamyshlydzha deposits." (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen TV)

Farmers To Get More US Harvesters, Niyazov Says
March 23, 2000

Turkmen State News Agency reports that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov held a meeting today at the presidential palace on the quality care of grain plantations and the organized conduct of the harvest campaign. "We have every opportunity to achieve the planned target in the first year of the Turkmen people's Golden Age [21st century], the President noted.

Niyazov told the meeting that an agreement has been reached with the [US] Case company on the purchase of 200 harvesters for Turkmen farmers, which will be delivered before the harvest, between 15th and 20th May [2000]. The state leader also emphasized the need to take certain steps to secure the uninterrupted work of all grain harvesters, including those to arrive. A government commission was set up to guarantee winter crop harvesting at a high level and its composition was approved. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen State News Agency)

Over A Quarter Of Turkmen MPs Are Women
March 24, 2000

From the Turkmen State News Agency report (condensed): "The law on declaring 8th March Turkmenistan's eternal national spring holiday dedicated to our dear mothers, daughters and beloved women, adopted in Turkmenistan, has met with a profound response at the UN.

At a meeting of the UN commission on preparations for the UN General Assembly's special session on "Women in 2000: equality between men and women, peace and progress in the 21st century", it was noted that the law initiated by Turkmen President Niyazov on establishing the special holiday for women, is clear evidence of the support being provided by the state for women in their professional and public activity, and in their daily life as well.

The representatives of state and non-governmental organizations from various countries, speaking at the committee meeting, recalled the policy being conducted by Turkmen President Niyazov, quoting specific instances of the protection of woman rights in Turkmen society. By way of example, it was said that female deputies make up over 26 per cent of Turkmenistan's Mejlis [parliament] which is one of highest indicators in the world." (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen State News Agency)

Niyazov Demands Officials Use Native Language
March 23, 2000

"It is important now to introduce and use the Turkmen language more decisively and effectively in the state administration system and in other spheres," President Niyazov said at a meeting on the study of Turkmen history and enhancing the role of the Turkmen language in the sphere of state administration.

"Now that we have our own national alphabet, we must publish all textbooks, works of literature, political and social books and scientific works in the rich and beautiful Turkmen language. This will help rapidly to speed up the general transition to the Turkmen language in all spheres of state and public life," the Turkmen President added. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen State News Agency)

Kyrgyzstan And Turkmenistan Sign Agreement On Mutual Visits
March 22, 2000

Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan signed an bilateral agreement on mutual visits.

Last June [1999] Turkmenistan unilaterally withdrew from the agreement on visa-free movement within the CIS.

A deputy Kyrgyz foreign minister, Asanbek Osmonaliyev, who led the Kyrgyz delegation to Ashgabat, said that the new agreement would help avoid various bureaucratic hurdles and simplify the entry and departure procedure for some categories of citizens. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen TV - Kyrgyz newspaper "Vecherniy Bishkek")

Microsoft To Issue Program In Turkmen Alphabet
March 20, 2000

Computer users in Turkmenistan will get a chance to work on the new Microsoft-Windows-2000 program using the new Turkmen alphabet. American company Microsoft, with the cooperation of the Turkmen Intec firm, plans to release a program in the fall. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen State News Agency)