PRAGUE, April 11, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Less than two months after being sworn into office, former State Department spokesman Richard Boucher is touring South and Central Asia to get acquainted with the region.
In Kyrgyzstan, Boucher spoke about bilateral relations since the events of March 2005 when long-time President Askar Akaev fled the country and new leaders assumed power.
"Kyrgyzstan has an open media, has a strong civil society, has a lot of things going for it, but there is obviously more to do, and so we have been trying to work with the government to promote constitutional reform and reforming the judiciary and [there's] a serious fight against corruption."
"Well, actually, [U.S.-Kyrgyz relations] have been quite good and we've done very well together," he said. "We are cooperating on security issues for the region, including the air base here. We are cooperating on economic opportunities for Kyrgyzstan, with a lot of assistance to Kyrgyzstan for development of the economy, but we're also looking at new ideas and new possibilities [for the] export of Kyrgyz power to other countries of the south, for example."
Boucher said U.S. help was not limited to security and economic assistance, but also included helping the new authorities move forward on democratic reforms.
"We are also working on the political process and democratic reform," he said. "Kyrgyzstan has an open media, has a strong civil society, has a lot of things going for it, but there is obviously more to do, and so we have been trying to work with the government to promote constitutional reform and reforming the judiciary and [there's] a serious fight against corruption. I know there is a lot of disappointment in some of those areas. People think that it hasn't moved as fast as it should have, and I think we are, frankly, very interested in regaining the momentum on those issues."
In his new position, Boucher also addressed the recent problems between the United States and the government in Kyrgyzstan's neighbor Uzbekistan.
"The [Uzbek] government makes it increasingly hard to work with the organizations there," Boucher said. "They have closed down local organizations. They have closed down organizations that work with us. They close down organizations that work with the United Nations. They've closed down the people [to whom] we offer scholarships and the people who go out and test students and find eligible candidates for our scholarships. That's been closed down."
Boucher indicated that U.S. ties with Uzbekistan would not improve unless the Uzbek government changed its policies.
"Coming after the massacre in Andijon, where such horrible abuses occurred from the [Uzbek] government, we find that there is very little that we can do," he added. "We are not going to support a government that would act that way [toward] its own citizens, and we are not going to be able to work with the citizens if the government keeps acting this way. So, it is getting more and more difficult."
The Uzbek government claims 187 people were killed when troops opened fire to put down an attempted coup led by Islamic militants. Rights organizations, both local and international, say the number of people killed was several times higher and that the majority of protesters in Andijon last May was practicing its legal right to demonstrate peacefully.
The event complicated Uzbek-Kyrgyz relations when more than 400 Uzbek refugees fled the violence and crossed into Kyrgyzstan. Boucher praised the Kyrgyz authorities for allowing most of the refugees to be evacuated to third countries. He also spoke about the fate of four remaining refugees who have not yet been granted asylum in Kyrgyzstan or any other country.
"There are over 400 [Uzbek refugees] who have found safety and better lives because of the actions the Kyrgyz government took," Boucher said. "We think those are very important. It was somewhat difficult, there were a lot of pressures, but those were courageous actions. There are still four people left [in jail] and we think these people all deserve the same consideration and the same treatment as the others who were able to leave. So, we and the United Nations continue to advocate for them to be considered refugees and allowed to go through the normal refugee process."
Boucher is due in Kazakhstan after Kyrgyzstan as he continues his Asian tour.