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Central Asia: Germany Satisfied With Aid Progress

Prague, 3 June 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A high-level German economic team has returned from a visit to several Central Asian states expressing satisfaction at the results of Germany's assistance programs there.

Bonn's minister for economic cooperation Carl-Dieter Spranger, who is in charge of Germany's foreign economic aid program, visited Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The ministry's senior spokesman, Leo Kreuz, was among the officials who accompanied Spranger.

Kreuz told RFE/RL today that the team was impressed by what it saw on the tour, and that Spranger is convinced German aid is contributing meaningfully to the development of those countries. Kreuz said German support will continue in the coming years at approximately the same rate as at present. Kyrgyzstan has received some $60 million of German assistance since 1993, Kazakhstan the same amount, and Uzbekistan has received double that amount.

The aid is being used for a wide range of projects, with particular emphasis on infrastructure and transport, as well as on the creation of legal and administrative frameworks which are essential for the proper functioning of private business, and to attract foreign investment.

In Uzbekistan, projects include the upgrading of Tashkent airport, and the creation of a large dairy product plant, for milk bottling, yoghurt manufacture and so forth. In Kyrgyzstan, projects include a factory for the manufacture of orthopaedic equipment, which is linked to a public health centre specialising in orthopaedic problems. There's also a training centre for mechanics, modelled on the German educational system, under which students spend part of their time doing practical work, and the rest in academic studies.

There is also an Uzbek project to help mitigate the affects of the Aral Sea ecological disaster, through the installation of water filter equipment to provide clean drinking water for villagers.

The German team toured extensively though rural areas during the trip, mostly travelling by bus, except for a trip to the spectacular Kyrgyz mountain lake of Issyk-Kul for which a helicopter was used. Germany is helping set up a nature reserve at the lake.

Spranger conferred with the presidents of Uzebkistan and Kyrgyzstan, Islam Karimov and Askar Akayev, and in Kazakhstan with prime minister Akejan Kajegeldin. Kreuz said the talks confirmed the excellent state of relations between those countries and Germany.

Kreuz said his country is proud of the consistent and steady help which Bonn has given to Central Asian states since they gained independence. He contrasted this favourably with aid efforts which he said started with fanfare, but then faded out as the initial interest declined.

An RFE/RL correspondent notes however that Germany has interests of its own in helping Central Asia. There are still big ethnic German communities in each of the countries which Spranger visited, and Bonn's policy is to do its best to ensure that these people stay in their present homelands, and do not emigrate en masse to Germany. In Kazakhstan, for instance, two-thirds of the German community has already gone, but 300,000 people remain. The situation is even more drastic in Kyrgyzstan, where only a fifth of the former community of about 100,000 remain.

And Germany also has a geo-political interest in ensuring stability in the region, sandwiched as it is between Russia and China. A German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said that the succession of visits by German politicians in recent years, of which Spranger's is the latest, shows the importance which Germany attaches to the region. She noted that the good level of present contacts is in large part because of the long-standing relations these republics had in the Soviet era with communist East Germany.

Central Asia is now going through the economic hardships common to most of the emerging states. But while in Uzbekistan Spranger offered a word of consolation aimed at the region as a whole. He said people with a culture so old and strong will successfully master their present problems.