1 July 2000
Human Rights Groups Concerned For Nurmamedov and Other Dissidents
June 30, 2000
Russia-based Information Center for Human Rights in Central Asia and human rights group Memorial report on continued suppression of religious minorities and opposition in Turkmenistan.
According to a joint statement issued by the two organizations, one of the most prominent members of the Russian community in Turkmenistan, Nina Shmeleva, has been sentenced to a 6 year prison term. Shmeleva was convicted in a group of 13 suspects accused of forging Russian citizenship documents. In her interview with Memorial, Shmeleva said she had never seen her "collaborators" before the court session. She also told about threats and inhumane treatment she received during interrogations at the KNB (formerly, KGB).
Shmeleva has appealed the court's ruling and expects the Supreme Court decision in July 2000.
Human rights groups also report that prominent opposition leader Nurberdy Nurmamedov, serving a 5 year term in prison, has been suffering from stomach ulcer. The prison officials have refused to supply him with medicine and do not allow him to receive packages from relatives.
The Turkmen authorities have also tightened control over the family of Khodzha Ahmed Orazgylych, an Islamic religious activist who was exiled to Tejen region by President Niyazov several months ago. The authorities have burned 40 thousand copies of Koran translated to Turkmen by the Khodzha, destroyed the mosque where Orazgylych's family had settled, and confiscated the land. They also prevent 72-year-old Khodzha from traveling outside the village. (Information Center for Human Rights in Central Asia, Memorial)
Niyazov And Karimov To Hold Negotiations in September
June 30, 2000
Turkmen and Uzbek Presidents, Saparmurad Niyazov and Islam Karimov, will hold talks in Ashgabad during Karimov's official visit in Turkmenistan in the second part of September. The two presidents agreed to hold talks during a telephone conversation yesterday, Niyazov's administration has told Interfax.
In the course of their conversation, Niyazov and Karimov discussed last week's meeting of intergovernmental bilateral committee for frontier delimitation and demarcation.
The two sides are expecded to sign an intergovernmental agreement on the frontier and discuss regional problems during Karimov's expected visit in Ashgabat.
Niyazov has also met with Iran's ambassador to Ashgabat to discuss Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's official visit in Turkmenistan in mid-July. (Interfax)
Niyazov Attends Anti-Aircraft Crew Training Near Ashgabat
June 27, 2000
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov was on hand for control firing practice of S-125 "Neva" anti-aircraft guided missile systems conducted today at Lake Geok-Tepe, 40 kilometers outside of Ashgabat.
The anti-aircraft guided missile division, consisting was restored by Ukrainian specialists to settle debts for Turkmen gas. The cost has not been reported, though the Turkmen president revealed that it had been very expensive for his country.
The restored anti-aircraft guided missile system division is intended to protect the air space around the Turkmen capital, Niyazov told top diplomats invited to the fire exercises. (Interfax)
Niyazov Will Not Participate In August CIS Summit In Crimea
June 27, 2000
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has said he will not take part in an informal meeting of the CIS heads of state to be held on August 18 in the Crimea.
Niyazov made this announcement at today's meeting with ambassadors during firing practice by an anti-aircraft missile unit near Ashgabat.
The Turkmen president also explained his country's position and why it had refused to become a member of the CIS free trade zone. In his view, Turkmenistan would stand to lose some $500 million if it joined.
Furthermore, the republic's national producers of consumer goods would suffer, since they are not always capable of competing with their counterparts in the CIS. Turkmenistan would be flooded with low-quality goods, Niyazov said. (Interfax)
Shell Urges Turkmenistan To Speed Up Gas Pipeline Deal
June 30, 2000
Visiting executives from Royal Dutch/Shell Group urged Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov today to speed up work on an ambitious pipeline to ship natural gas to Turkey and Europe.
Shell executive Zaharuddin Megat said he presented Niyazov with a proposal "to make the TCGP (Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline) happen sooner."
"Shell's desire to make the TCGP happen is still very strong. But there are still some challenges ahead," he told a news conference. He said one or two problems remained to be sorted before construction can begin on the planned 2,000-kilometer, dlrs 2 billion pipeline.
Shell's enthusiasm for the project follows reports that the other half of a joint venture charged with building the pipeline is getting cold feet. PSG International, a pipeline-development company jointly owned by GE Capital and Bechtel Group, has been scaling back work in the region.
Niyazov appeared in no hurry, saying the consortium's goals were unclear. "There are many questions to be settled before a final agreement is reached."
The planned Turkmenistan-Turkey pipeline, which would carry anywhere from 16 billion to 30 billion cubic meters of gas annually west across the Caspian Sea, faces stiff competition from other gas producers even before construction begins. (AP, RFE/RL Turkmen Service)
AIOC Boosts Oil Exports Through Georgia
June 29, 2000
Azebaijan International Operating Company (AIOC), multinational consortium developing fields in Azerbaijan's sector of the Caspian, plans to export 6 million tons of oil this year on the Baku-Supsa pipeline through Georgia.
AIOC President David Woodward met in Tbilisi with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and also held talks with top officials at Georgia International Oil Corporation (GIOC).
AIOC has paid Georgia $4.5 million in oil transit fees last year, Woodward said today at a briefing in Tbilisi. The sum will rise to $6 million this year.
AIOC and GIOC are working together to overhaul the existing Gachiani-Batumi oil pipeline. The $12.7 million project should be completed by February 2001.
Transportation of Azerbaijani gas from the Shah-Deniz field was the chief topic of discussion, Woodward said. Work on an international treaty and agreements with investors on construction of a gas pipeline are now under way. The construction project will take 2-3 years. The pipeline will initially ship 5 billion cubic meters a year, ultimately rising up to 16 billion cubic meters.
Woodward noted that the exact route for the main oil export pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, will be determined within the next two months. In order to secure financing for the project, BP Amoco needs to confirm that enough oil is present to warrant the pipeline. At the same time, BP Amoco is committed to fulfilling its obligations to determine the pipeline route and prepare the preliminary calculations for the main export pipeline project, Woodward said. (Interfax)
Turkmenistan To Expand Cooperation With Belarus
June 29, 2000
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov hald talks yesterday in Ashgabat with deputy prime minister of Belarus Barys Batura and director-general of the Minsk Tractor Plant Mikhail Leonov.
The two sides discussed long-term Turkmen-Belarusian partnership plan on supplying the Turkmen agrarian enterprises with machinery and equipment. A long-term agreement will be drawn up on supplying Turkmenistan with farming and road-construction machinery in the next 10 years. The agreement will be signed during the next meeting between Niyazov and Belarussian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen Television first channel)
Ashgabat To Host Presentation Of Hydrocarbon Resources In Turkmen Sector Of Caspian Sea
June 27, 2000
Technical presentation of the hydrocarbon resources in Turkmenistan's sector of the Caspian Sea, followed by a seminar, will be held tomorrow in Ashgabat.
The presentation constitutes the final round of negotiations between potential investors in the republic's oil and gas projects, a process begun in Houston, Texas, and continued in London, the Committee for the Use of Hydrocarbon Resources under the Turkmen president has informed Interfax.
Series of presentations was organized on the instructions of President Saparmurat Niyazov in order to acquaint U.S. and European businessmen with Turkmenistan's Caspian shelf.
U.S. company Western Geophysical had researched and interpreted the geological and geophysical characteristics of the republic's coastal areas. Seismic data on the central and southern parts of the Turkmen sector of the Caspian shelf revealed that oil resources there are nearly twice as great as had been supposed.
The technical seminars held in Houston and London new licensing strategy, under which international oil companies are invited for direct talks with a view to reaching agreements on sharing the products of the shelf areas. (Interfax)
Poaching Threatens To Undermine Commercial Sturgeon Fishing In Caspian Sea
June 27, 2000
The illegal catching of sturgeon in the Caspian Sea is the main cause of a rapid decrease in the stock of sturgeon. If the threatening scope of poaching persists, in about three years "the industrial catch of sturgeon will become practically impossible," Deputy Director of the Caspian Fisheries Institute Damir Katunin said today at a press-conference in Almaty.
In 1999, uncontrolled poaching prevented the Caspian states Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran to catch as much sturgeon as they had planned, Katunin said.
He argued that all of the Caspian states must tighten measures to combat poaching. Permits to catch sturgeon must be given to state enterprises and denied to private companies, as only state enterprises can guard the spawning areas and breed the young stock, said Katunin. (Interfax)
U.S. Rights Commission Concerned Over Makhmudov
June 30, 2000
The Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe is asking Uzbek authorities to permit international observers to meet with jailed writer Mamadali Makhmudov.
Congressman Christopher Smith (R-New Jersey) says Makhmudov is seriously ill. The congressman accuses Uzbek authorities of beating and torturing the writer, whom they imprisoned for allegedly trying to overturn the state's constitutional order and insulting President Islam Karimov.
According to Smith, an Uzbek court convicted Makhmudov in August 1999 in a trial Smith says was marred by violations of due process. The court sentenced Makhmudov to 14 years in jail.
Smith says Uzbek authorities are responsible for what happens to Makhmudov. He said that if the government wants to convince the international community that he is not being tortured, then it should immediately permit Makhmudov to meet with independent observers. (RFE/RL)
Amnesty International Says Uzbekistan To Execute Prisoner
June 29, 2000
Amnesty International has joined another human rights group saying that Uzbekistan appears ready to execute a prisoner after police tortured and threatened him into confessing to murder.
The London-based human rights group says a Tashkent regional court convicted Dmitry Chikunov last November of murdering two men and sentenced him to death.
Chikunov has said that police at a pre-trial detention center beat him unconscious and placed a mask over his head preventing him from breathing. Amnesty International quotes him as also saying that law enforcement officers threatened to rape his mother until he confessed.
One week ago, the New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a similar statement. (RFE/RL)
Demonstrations Outside Kazakh, Kyrgyz Embassies
June 29, 2000
A U.S. human rights group held demonstrations late yesterday outside the Kyrgyz and Kazakh embassies in Washington.
The group called Uyghur Human Rights Coalition said it was protesting what it calls the forcible return of Uyghur political refugees to China from Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
About 10 people showed up at each embassy.
Last week, Amnesty International expressed concern about a Uyghur activist named Jelil Turdi, who it says was forcibly deported by the Kyrgyz government to China. Turdi had lived in Kyrgyzstan for three years. AI says Turdi is at risk of facing torture and possibly the death penalty for his involvement in alleged separatist activities in China.
AI also expressed concern about Hemit Memet, Kasim Mahpir, and Ilyas Zordun. The group says the three were forcibly returned to China by Kazakhstan and are at risk of being executed for alleged separatist activities. (RFE/RL)
Health Report Says Diseases More Deadly Than Disasters
June 28, 2000
A report from the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says the spread of infectious diseases such as AIDS and malaria kills far more people than natural disasters.
Federation officials said at a news conference in London today that governments are failing to fulfill their responsibility for immunizing residents and funding preventive health care.
The head of the Red Cross in Central Asia, Susanne Soderstrom, told RFE/RL that health care has declined since the end of communism.
The health report said the number of syphilis cases in Russia is 40 times higher now than it was before the collapse of the Soviet Union. And malaria is now appearing in countries such as Azerbaijan and Tajikistan.
The report says changing behavior saves more lives than spending money on expensive equipment and hospitals. It recommends vaccinating children, and encouraging people to protect themselves from malaria by using treated bed nets and from AIDS by using condoms. (RFE/RL)
Trial Of Kyrgyz Opposition Leader Opens In Bishkek
June 27, 2000
The trial of Kyrgyz opposition leader Felix Kulov opened at Bishkek military court today.
Our correspondent on the scene says the proceedings are closed, with mounted police keeping order on the street where more than 130 people are picketing the court building to protest the trial.
Defense attorney Lyubov Ivanova says Kulov faces accusations of abuse of power, abusing his office for personal benefit, and forgery.
Ivanova says no serious grounds exist to hold the trial in a closed session.
Before the start of his trial, Kulov gave a written interview, conveyed through his lawyers, to the Bishkek newspaper Litsa. The former minister of national security predicted "tough" presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan to be held on October 29.
If acquitted, Kulov said, he would certainly join the election campaign. He said that "we [opposition party "Arnamys"] can back Askar Akayev [the Kyrgyz President] in these elections only on conditions of real adherence to the proclaimed democratic principles." "We raise two arms for the early Akayev and two arms against the late one," the politician said, speaking of his party's acceptance and subsequent rejection of the president.
When asked what he thinks about the presidential candidates, Kulov said none of them stand a real chance of winning.
He also said he believes his imprisonment damages Kyrgyzstan's image abroad. (RFE/RL, Interfax)
Kazakh Parliament Approves Draft Law On Status Of First President; Opposition Proposes Political Reforms
June 27, 2000
The Kazakh parliament approved at a second reading the draft law on the status of the first Kazakh president.
The document gives Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan's president since 1990, the right to advance state and political initiatives.
In accordance with the Kazakh constitution, Nazarbayev's term will expire in 2006. Nazarbayev was re-elected to the post of president in January 1999.
Also today, at a press-conference in Almaty, leaders of the opposing Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan suggested a number of political initiatives and reforms.
In its address to the nation and the parliament, the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan suggests, in particular, redistributing the president's authorities in favor of the parliament and the government. The current seven year presidential term should be reduced to five years without the right of reelection. The opposition also believes that the president's family and close relatives have no right to work at executive and legislative institutions until the end of president's term of office.
The Republican People's Party suggested abolishing the Senate (the upper chamber of the parliament) and instead increasing membership of the mazhilis (the lower chamber) by adding more deputies of political and public associations. (Interfax)
UN Report Says Afghanistan In State of Acute Crisis; Former Soviet Republics Under Threat
June 26, 2000
The UN Secretary-General says Afghanistan has reached a state of "acute crisis" and there are signs that the new offensives are being planned in its civil war.
The report from Secretary-General Kofi Annan, released today, says the UN Mission in Afghanistan has observed a military buildup during the last three months by the two warring sides -- the ruling Taliban and the United Front.
Annan's report says the supply of weapons and other war material into Afghanistan continued during the spring, arming both sides to mount new offensives. He says outside interference in Afghanistan continues but its Central Asian neighbors are showing some signs they would support a peaceful settlement of the civil war rather than sponsor warring factions.
The Secretary-General called for a process of dialogue to begin among Afghans towards an eventual comprehensive peace settlement.
Also today, officials from three former Soviet republics said independently that they are losing the battle against drug smuggling, mostly from Afghanistan.
General Alexander Sergeyev, who heads the Russian Foreign Ministry's anti-drug unit, said Russia needs to spend the equivalent of 100 million U.S. dollars to block drugs moving from Afghanistan, through Central Asian nations and into Russia and Western Europe.
In Kyrgyzstan, Almaz Garifullin, deputy head of the national drug fighting agency, said his country needs donated funds and the cooperation of international organizations and of its neighbors against ballooning drug trafficking and use.
Armenian Interior Minister Ashot Mkrtchyan said today that drug-related crime has doubled there in five years. He said that Armenia has 20,000 registered drug addicts. (RFE/RL)
UN: Human Development Declines in CIS, Eastern Europe
By Robert McMahon
June 30, 2000
Human development can be measured in terms of job opportunities. The freedom to choose a political candidate. The ability of students to learn in their native language. Or a citizen's access to health care.
The UN Development Program, UNDP, this year took these and other factors into consideration to provide a composite look at basic living conditions for people all over the world. And as it has done for the past 10 years, the UNDP has ranked countries according to a human development index - a prominent and sometimes controversial measuring stick.
This year's survey, released on Thursday, focuses on the relationship between human rights and development. As one of the report's authors, Kate Raworth told reporters, human rights are not a reward of development, they are essential to the process of achieving it.
The 290-page UNDP report says that more respect for human rights and a genuine commitment to democracy are needed for nations to improve the living standards of their people.
But the report also says that civil and political rights are not enough for human development if people are not able to earn a decent living wage. For example, countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Romania have made strides in political reforms, helping them emerge as candidates for accession to the European Union. But the UNDP says they were also among a small group of countries which experienced a decline in their human development index in the last 10 to 15 years.
The UNDP says areas of decline include a drop in the life expectancy of males in many countries by about five years, decreasing enrollment in schools, and decay in social services formerly provided by the state.
Raworth says these countries suffered setbacks due to economic difficulties they have faced since the fall of communism. She says the survey shows that countries like these - India is another example - can still achieve democratic progress despite economic problems:
"It shows two things: Firstly that the picture is very complex. That countries can do well in some dimensions and go backwards in others. Secondly, it shows that money doesn't have to buy human rights. That you can improve your democratic situation, you can improve participation and other human rights issues, even if the economy is declining."
vIn 1990, the first year the UNDP made its human development survey, the Soviet Union was given a ranking of 25. Since its dissolution, none of its successor states has come close to that high a ranking. Russia's ranking this year is 62 out of 174 countries.
Below Russia were Georgia (70), Kazakhstan (73), Ukraine (78), Azerbaijan (90), Armenia (93), Kyrgyzstan (98), Turkmenistan (100), Moldova (102), Uzbekistan (106) and Tajikistan (110).
Human rights monitors say for many of these countries it is a failure to accept democratic reforms that has hampered development. Cassandra Cavanaugh, a specialist on Central Asian affairs for Human Rights Watch, says she is not surprised by the low development rankings for most Central Asian countries:
"Yes, there has been a transition going on over the past decade, but it has not been a transition to democracy, it's been a transition to authoritarianism. And in addition, a transition to the concentration of wealth into the hands of very very few people and the impoverishment of the great majority of the populations of these countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus."
Cavanaugh referred to a series of recent elections in the region which were criticized by international monitors for being manipulated by the leadership.
She said this hinders human development because these countries abandon the rule of law, weakening the power of individuals to choose their leaders and improve their economic standing:
"The lack of the rule of law has meant their economies - instead of flourishing, instead of attracting foreign direct investment, instead of growing and becoming more integrated with the world economy - they have stagnated. They have become ever more isolated and the investment is not there."
The UNDP survey defines basic human rights as freedom from discrimination, from want, from fear, and from threats to personal safety, in addition to freedom for personal development.
It calculates the ranking by combining factors such as life expectancy, adult literacy, school enrollment, and per capita gross domestic product. This year, for the seventh year in a row, Canada was rated number one and Sierra Leone repeated as worst-ranked country.
The United States was ranked third but was also found to have the highest level of "human poverty" among 18 industrialized nations that were rated. The survey said that in Britain, the United States, and Ireland more than one in five adults are functionally illiterate.
Overall, it said 46 countries have achieved high human development, including Slovenia (29), the Czech Republic (34), Slovakia (40), Hungary (43), Poland (44). Estonia, at number 46, also made the high development list despite being seen as in decline since 1985. (RFE/RL)