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Kazakhstan: Authorities Say Suspects Confess To Killing Sarsenbaev

Almaty citizens on 15 February mourning Sarsenbaev's killing (RFE/RL) Kazakh Interior Minister Bauyrzhan Mukhamedzhanov told journalists in Almaty today that the suspected killers of Kazakh opposition politician Altynbek Sarsenbaev have been found and have confessed to murder. He said five people confessed to carrying out the assassination of Sarsenbaev -- a former government official and cochair of the opposition Naghyz Ak Zhol party -- who was found dead along with his driver and bodyguard on 13 February.

PRAGUE, 20 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Interior Minister Mukhamedzhanov said the five people detained as suspects in Sarsenbaev's killing have been interrogated and confessed to the crime. He added that a sixth person was detained as a suspected organizer of the killing.

Alleged Confessions

"We can't disclose names of the detained," he said. "All of them were arrested and are being interrogated now. They have already confessed."

The opposition announced that they have formed a public committee to conduct an independent probe and called on the authorities for a fair investigation.

The official gave details of the confessions, saying that the killing was ordered. "The organizer ordered the perpetrators to arrange the abduction of a certain businessman and deliver him to an agreed location," he said. "For doing this job, he offered them a $25,000 reward after the job was completed."

Sarsenbaev, a former Kazakh minister of information and former Kazakh ambassador to Russia, was also a cochair of the opposition Naghyz Ak Zhol Party (True Bright Path).

He had been missing since the afternoon of 11 February. On 13 February, Sarsenbaev, his bodyguard, and his driver were found shot dead in a mountain gorge near Almaty by local villagers on 13 February.

The interior minister said the suspects abducted Sarsenbaev late on 11 February from his car, took him to the Almaty suburbs, and assassinated him and the other two men there.

Second Murdered Opposition Figure In Three Months

Sarsenbaev is the second opposition figure murdered in the last three months. In mid-November, prominent opposition member Zamanbek Nurkadilov's body was found in his Almaty apartment with three gunshot wounds.

An official investigation concluded that Nurkadilov had committed suicide. The opposition ruled out this conclusion, arguing that Nurkadilov would not be able to shoot himself twice in the chest and once in the head.

The opposition claimed that political reasons were behind the death of Sarsenbaev as well.

On 14 February, the opposition group For a Just Kazakhstan held a press conference in Almaty. The group's leader, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, declared that Sarsenbaev's killing was politically motivated.

"Altynbek Sarsenbaev and his two young aides, Baurzhan Baibosyn and Vasily Zhuravliov, died tragically at the hands of murderers," Tuyakbai said. "They were killed like sheep, like cattle, with their hands tied behind their back. They were shot in the back and then in the back of their heads. That is proof that it was a political murder."

Colleagues Claim Political Assassination

Tuyakbai ruled out other reasons -- business and criminal -- behind his fellow oppositionist's murder.

The opposition announced that they have formed a public committee to conduct an independent probe and called on the authorities for a fair investigation.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev immediately ordered an investigation into the murder. He also expressed condolences to the family and friends of Sarsenbaev.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been assisting Kazakh authorities in investigating the murders. Mukhamedzhanov said today that an FBI agent had already arrived to Almaty.

(RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report.)

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