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Turkmenistan: New OSCE Office Seeks To Develop Democracy

Prague, 31 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The envoy from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to Turkmenistan says a new OSCE office in the capital, Ashgabat, will seek to help build democracy in the country.

Paul Ullmann made the comment this week (March 29) in an interview with RFE/RL's Turkmen Service during which he discussed the goals the OSCE office has set for itself in its first year.

The OSCE opened its office in Turkmenistan in mid-January and, though operations have not yet begun in full, OSCE officials have met with Turkmen government officials.

Ullmann says: "Our chief goal is to help Turkmen authorities and Turkmen society in their wish for reforms. We think that to guarantee long-term stability, it is necessary and useful to strengthen the rule of law, which is the basis for political development and economic development everywhere. We are ready to assist Turkmenistan."

Ullmann spoke out about the need for developing democracy and protecting human rights in Turkmenistan:

"Our great concern is the strengthening of human rights, which is also the basis for democratic development and then certainly also to give a wider field to participation of citizens in the government of their country. This is connected with the question of elections, and the forthcoming elections to the Majlis (parliament) will be a particular subject for our cooperation with Turkmen authorities."

Turkmenistan's government is often criticized internationally for censorship and for its tight control over the country's media -- all of which is state-run. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov is the founder of one of the country's major newspapers, Neitralny Turkmenistan. Other newspapers, radio and television regularly portray Niyazov as a genius or in the role of a wise and benevolent father figure. Internationally, there are also pronounced concerns about the fairness of the Majlis elections, due later this year. Only one political party -- the Democratic Party headed by Niyazov -- has been officially registered to date.

An OSCE expert on human rights, democracy and media, Piotr Iwaszkiewicz, talked with RFE/RL's Turkmen service about the role of the organization's office in Ashgabat and about the elections for the Majlis:

"In this case, we are going to advise, to help and, of course, to observe. ... We are [also] going to help individual people. The people can approach our office. The people can come to us and speak to us about their problems."

Iwaszkiewicz mentioned that freedom of the mass media is also an area where the OSCE is seeking to help Turkmenistan. He said the OSCE places a high priority on the need for freedom of the mass media. He said the OSCE would like to help the Turkmen government in implementing European standards for freedom of the press. He said "there is in Turkmenistan a (legal) base for freedom of mass media," but added there remains "a question of implementation."

On the whole, envoy Ullmann expressed satisfaction with the progress made by the OSCE office since its establishment earlier this year. He called the initial contacts with the government "encouraging" and added that OSCE officials "have met open doors."