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Central Asia: OSCE Seeks Funds For Police Training

The police forces of Central Asia are notoriously ineffective, corrupt, and at times brutal. But the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is trying to improve the region's law-enforcement sector. The Vienna-based body is teaching Central Asian police techniques in crime fighting, crowd control, and maintaining good relations with civilians.

Vienna, 7 July 2004 (RFE/RL) – A woman described her experience at the notorious March 2002 protests in Kyrgyzstan's southern Aksy District.

"The police warned us they would fire," she said. "Then Tursunbek Akun (a leader of the Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Movement, or KHM) came forward. [The police] stopped his car. He got out and asked for the microphone to address the crowd. [The police] pushed Akun. We shouted to leave him alone. The police came and grabbed him, and we shouted, 'Let him go!' As they pushed him into the car, the shooting started. They drove Akun away in the car, and the police started beating people back with their clubs. And then I ran away into the crowd."

The demonstrations -- held in support of a local official subjected to what many said was a politically motivated trial -- focused international attention on the brutality of the country's police forces.
One problem, Monk says, is the long-held practice of forcing suspects to confess to a crime they didn't commit.

At least five protesters were killed in the two days of angry protests -- several from bullet wounds.

Internal Affairs Minister Temirbek Akmataliev said at the time that police were forced to use live ammunition for crowd control because the ministry had no rubber bullets or tear gas.

The Aksy incident sparked urgent calls for police reform. But even day-to-day law enforcement operations are badly in need of change.

In many police stations in Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere in Central Asia, officers are still typing out complaints on 20-year-old typewriters. There are no computers, no centralized filing system, and no way to compare crimes. Victims are often forced to give the details of their cases in small, crowded rooms with no privacy or compassion.

"You have to think long-term, and you have to think about substantial reform," said Richard Monk, the chief police adviser for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is taking an active role in training police in Central Asia, Georgia, Macedonia, and elsewhere. "And it's not just a question of saying, 'We will give you some [sophisticated equipment like] computers and more forensic equipment.' They actually need basic equipment -- chairs, tables, books, learning materials."

Monk says the training programs are struggling because many international organizations and the OSCE's 55 member governments are reluctant to provide long-term financing.

And chairs and tables are just the start. Monk says the OSCE is working to train Central Asian police officials in modern techniques for fighting serious regional crimes like drug smuggling and human trafficking.

It is also helping local police to win the trust and cooperation of the communities in which they live. It's not an easy task in a region where law enforcement professionals have been feared and reviled for decades.

One problem, Monk says, is the long-held practice of forcing suspects to confess to a crime they didn't commit.

Monk -- a former senior officer with Scotland Yard, the detective branch of the London police -- says people must come to believe that a conviction is based on good police work and forensic evidence, not on forced confessions.

"If you put a very high priority on confessions in the judicial system at the expense of good forensic evidence, then it's fairly obvious what might happen. And you are going to invite the police to acquire confessions at all costs rather than looking to good professional police work."

OSCE's operation in Kyrgyzstan began in August 2003 and is a pilot project for other Central Asian countries.

The 18-month program is costing the OSCE some 3.6 million euros -- not enough, by Monk's standards. He says at minimum the Central Asian programs should last three years and receive some 5 million euros in funding.

He is hopeful that the OSCE will agree to another 18-month training period in Kyrgyzstan when the current one expires next February, and that more funding will be provided.

The European Union recently pledged a modest one million euros to support several programs.

Monk has also urged police academies in OSCE countries to invite police officers from Central Asia to join their training programs.

The pilot program in Kyrgyzstan includes several different projects.

Training police in modern methods of investigation is a top priority. Another priority is to create a national system to collect and analyze information about criminal activities.

The OSCE program is also designed to create direct contact between local police and the citizens they serve, in order to encourage residents to take a greater interest in crime prevention.

Another challenge is the widespread corruption plaguing many Central Asian police forces. Monk says a practical first step would be to increase wages in order to reduce temptation to accept bribes or other payments.

"Police officers still earn a very small salary," he said. "If you are going to make them professional, you've got to give them a reasonable salary. Countries will say we cannot afford that -- any more than we can afford to buy them the equipment to be more efficient. But then it is equally true -- how on earth does a police officer support himself and his family on $40 a month?"

One of the most important projects for the OSCE is training police in crowd control and in managing public disorder. OSCE experts teach local officers how to deal with peaceful crowds, and how to respond if a demonstration turns violent.

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