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Kyrgyzstan: Authorities, Bishkek Residents Alarmed At Land Seizures

Long-standing social problems have surfaced in Kyrgyzstan three weeks after former President Askar Akaev was removed from office. Thousands of squatters, many from the south of the country, are occupying land around the capital Bishkek. They insist that they should be allocated land by the new authorities. As RFE/RL reports, their demands have sparked anger among many Bishkek residents.

Prague, 15 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The squatters first appeared on 7 April in an area of parkland on the southern edge of the capital Bishkek.

One of them, Bakyt, told RFE/RL that the squatters have been deprived of land. “People have come to defend their interests," he said. "For example, I have been trying to get a piece of land for two years. I have to pay between 20,000 and 30,000 soms ($480-$730). But I don’t have that kind of money.”

The problem of land ownership has been looming for many years. According to Kyrgyzstan’s Land Code, every citizen is entitled to own a piece of land. But many citizens did not receive land after collective farms were divided up in the early 1990s.

In the past week, several thousand “settlers” joined the movement when they heard about the land grab. They are living in tents on what they call their plot. Many of them are from the poorer southern regions and came north to the capital to seek a better life.

Many Bishkek residents have reacted angrily to the settlers’ demands. Natalia Ablova is the director of the Kyrgyz-American Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law in Bishkek. She said people are unhappy with the land claims.

“Lots of people in Bishkek are very outraged at this movement. They think, 'we are working as nurses, teachers, doctors, with very, very modest salaries.’ They cannot simply support claims from others who just came from other parts of the country,” Ablova said.

On 10 April, about 1,000 angry Bishkek residents protested in the central Alatoo Square against the settlers. In the surrounding Chui region, farmers were also outraged when they saw squatters occupying their land and trampling the crops they had planted.

Ablova said it appears that some of the squatters are “opportunists” eager to exploit the current lack of authority in the country. She said there is a large potential for confrontations.

“The [interim] government is now working as a fire-fighters team. They are facing so many challenges. [The squatters issue] is one of the greatest challenges. It is very dangerous. The situation is really very tense,” Ablova said.

The country’s new leaders have condemned the squatters. Acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev said on 11 April that the "provocateurs" were destabilizing the country.

On 13 April, First Deputy Prime Minister Ishenbai Kadyrbekov acknowledged that the new government will have no prospects if it does not solve the problem. Speaking to reporters, he made clear that the authorities will not let squatters build wherever they want.

“If we find people who have destroyed land for growing crops, they’ll be punished. And if people start to bring stones and bricks to build houses, we will remove them in accordance with the law. We have instructed the prosecutor-general and the police,” Kadyrbekov said.

In an effort to ease tensions, Kadyrbekov said the interim government will expropriate vacant plots that have not been built on in the last two years. He added that a mortgage bank will be created to support the building of homes.

The new government has already allocated more than 500 hectares of land outside the capital to satisfy the demand for land. The government has also asked those people with legitimate claims to go to the State Registry to prove that they do not currently hold any land.

(Ainura Asankojoeva, from RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, contributed to this report.)

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