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Tajikistan: President Makes Pitch For Investment

Prague, 12 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov says that now that peace has been re-established in his country, his priority is to create a democratic, market-oriented society.

Rakhmonov was the keynote speaker today (Wednesday) at an economic forum held in Prague by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE.

Rakhmonov said Tajikistan's five-year civil war -- from 1992 to 1997 -- had exacted an enormous cost, creating some 1 million refugees and leaving 100,000 people dead out of a population of just 6 million. He estimated the total financial cost at some $7 billion.

But Rakhmonov said that since that time, Tajikistan has embarked on a new phase of its development, aimed at securing stability and economic benefits for all its citizens.

"With the conclusion of the peace process, we have started a second very important period of our development -- the creation of a democratic society with a market economy. Today we fully recognize the unassailability of the fact that building the rule of law and strong executive power are necessary conditions for a market economy."

Rakhmonov appealed for more foreign investment and cited some successes so far. He said the annual rate of inflation has been reduced from some 2,000 percent in 1995 to 26 percent in 1999. He also said that the economy has shown signs of growth since the end of the war in 1997.

Independent economists point out that Tajikistan's current economic situation is bound to look relatively good compared with the bloody years of chaos and civil war, but that it does not necessarily reflect deep economic reforms.

Nevertheless, Rakhmonov said his country is striving to become market-oriented. He said small privatizations in the sphere of trade and services has already proved a success. Prices have been liberalized, he said, and the government has abolished the state's monopoly on the export of key commodities such as cotton and aluminum. Rakhmonov reminded the OSCE forum that Tajikistan possesses vast natural resources and he invited foreigners to invest to develop them:

"I would like to mention some advantages that, from our point of view, make Tajikistan attractive for foreign investment. First of all, these are the rich deposits of silver in Konimansur and salt in Khojamunin as well as gold and other mineral resources. In absolute terms of hydro-energy resources, Tajikistan ranks eighth in the world, and in relative terms, it is in second place. Climactic conditions in Tajikistan are favorable for the production of high quality and environmentally clean agricultural products and the development of tourism."

Rakhmonov thanked international lending institutions for their past support and called on foreign governments to invest in Tajikistan as the best way to ensure the country's future security.

The Tajik president also mentioned his country's recent presidential and parliamentary elections as proof of progress towards democracy. But those polls were heavily criticized by international observers -- including OSCE monitors and the local opposition -- as being neither free nor fair.