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Kyrgyzstan: EU Supportive, But Cautious

One EU official said the recent killing of organized crime figure Ryspek Akmatbaev brought releief to the Kyrgyz political situation (RFE/RL) BRUSSELS, July 18, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- As the only country in Central Asia attempting democratic reforms, Kyrgyzstan today won praise in Brussels at a meeting with senior EU officials. However, the praise was tempered privately by EU diplomats, who stressed the challenges still facing the country.

Finnish Foreign Ministry Secretary of State Pertti Torstila, who led the EU delegation at the meeting, said the EU understands the difficulties facing Kyrgyzstan.

"We [understand] the difficult situation which currently [the] Kyrgyz Republic is facing and welcome the earnest efforts of Kyrgyz authorities to address the problems such as widespread corruption and organized crime," he said.

"[The] Kyrgyz Republic is an exception in the region," Torstila added. "The responsible handling of protests and demonstrations by the authorities is exemplary, but we on the European side emphasized continuing engagement which is needed to stabilize the political situation."

Still Far To Go

However, EU officials say privately that there remains a world of difference between Kyrgyzstan and countries like Ukraine and Georgia, which have undergone recent democratic "revolutions."

One EU official who was present at the meeting told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that "there is hope" for Kyrgyzstan, but added that he "wouldn't say there is light at the end of tunnel yet."
"Tourists like adventure, but not when there are people with shotguns everywhere." -- EU official

The official said the EU expected "big changes" in the aftermath of recent political upheavals, which did not materialize. In fact, he noted, "things got worse," with "criminal gangs" entering the political arena and the government.

Organized Crime In Politics

He said a turning point may have come with the killing of a leading alleged criminal figure, Ryspek Akmatbaev, who was suspected of having close links to the "clan" of President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

The EU official said the killing put an end to a climate of "physical fear" and brought "enormous relief" to Kyrgyz society. He praised the Kyrgyz government, which is now trying to "get to grips with the situation," carry out constitutional reforms, and attract investment.

However, the official noted, these remain daunting tasks -- while it is "very, very important" to secure investments and revitalize the economy, there are virtually no EU investors in Kyrgyzstan.

Financial Help Needed Above All

Today's EU-Kyrgyz meeting covered a wide range of issues. Apart from political and economic reforms, Torstila highlighted the role of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE), the treatment of Uzbek refugees, and regional cooperation.

The head of the Kyrgyz delegation, First Deputy Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov said "over 40" issues were covered. He said Kyrgyzstan is looking to the EU as "a model of democracy and successful regional integration." However, he said Bishkek most values concrete economic assistance.

"We would like to have more economic cooperation in our bilateral relations, we would like investments from the EU, we would like to invite private business from the EU to Kyrgyzstan," Usenov said. "We would like to say that our legal groundwork and tax reforms have thrown the doors wide open to [such investments]."

Usenov said Kyrgyzstan has compiled a list of concrete projects in the fields of hydroelectric energy, mining, and water management, among others, for which EU financing or investors are sought.

Usenov also said that Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev will visit EU headquarters in Brussels in October.

Limited EU Assistance

At today's meeting, the European Commission promised financial aid to some of the projects floated by the Kyrgyz delegation. The EU also said it will help Kyrgyzstan finance reforms of its penitentiary system, develop the energy sector, and fund a poverty-alleviation strategy.

EU sources said after the meeting all these issues are crucial in persuading European investors to target Kyrgyzstan.

Another EU official said the EU had to remind the Kyrgyz side that EU investors were not at the beck and call of EU governments. He said Kyrgyzstan needs to do more to persuade investors they and their property would be safe. He noted tourism would have "enormous potential," adding that "tourists like adventure, but not when there are people with shotguns everywhere."

Better Regional Ties Needed

The official said Kyrgyzstan was in the first instance much more likely to attract investors from neighboring Kazakhstan or Turkey, than the EU.

The official noted Kyrgyzstan remains a very poor country even against the backdrop of its own region. He said that while Kyrgyzstan's annual gross domestic product (GDP) per capita struggles to reach $300, that of Kazakhstan is $3,000-$5,000 "and growing."

As a result, large numbers of impoverished Kyrgyz citizens are forced to seek work in neighboring countries, contributing to regional tensions.

The EU official noted that Kyrgyzstan has "difficult neighbors" in any case. Relations with Uzbekistan are tense in the aftermath of the Andijon massacre last year, and a largely still underdemarcated border serves to complicate matters. Bishkek's cooperation with Tajikistan has improved, but, as the EU official noted, the situation on Kyrgyzstan's borders remains "volatile."

The Tulip Revolution

The Tulip Revolution

ONE YEAR AGO: Click on the image to view RFE/RL's archive of coverage of Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution from the beginning, including biographical sketches of the key players and photo galleries of the demonstrations.

See RFE/RL's special review of the March 2005 Kyrgyz events:

Questions Remain About March 24 'Revolution' (Part I)

Did Revolution Sow The Seeds Of Democracy? (Part II)

Was 'Revolution' A Worthy Successor To Rose And Orange? (Part III)

See also:

Reporter's Notebook -- Witness To The Uprising

THE COMPLETE KYRGYZSTAN: To view an archive of all of RFE/RL's coverage of Kyrgyzstan, click here.