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Central Asia: OSCE Chief To Discuss Elections

The chairwoman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, visits Central Asia next week, carrying a message of international disappointment with the conduct of recent parliamentary elections in the area. RFE/RL correspondent Roland Eggleston reports from the OSCE's Vienna headquarters that the organization will -- as usual -- also urge greater respect for human rights in all five Central Asian states.

Vienna, 26 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- It has become something of a tradition for a chairman of the OSCE visiting Central Asia to urge the five countries' leaders to honor faithfully the commitments they made on joining the organization -- particularly in regard to democratic elections and respect for human rights. Generally, each meeting between an OSCE chief and a Central Asian leader ends with the leader's promise to do more in honoring the nation's commitments -- if, the leader often qualifies, such an effort is possible when the political situation inside the country and other factors are taken into account.

But this time the new OSCE chairwoman, Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner, intends to press the five Central Asian states for stronger commitments on both elections and human rights. Peter Eicher, the deputy director of OSCE's office for democratic institutions, will participate in all of Ferrero-Waldner's talks with Central Asian officials.

Ferrero-Waldner flies to Turkmenistan on Sunday (May 28). She then continues on to Tajikistan (Tuesday), Kyrgyzstan (Tuesday night), Kazakhstan (Wednesday) and Uzbekistan (Thursday and Friday).

A senior OSCE official -- who asked not to be identified -- told RFE/RL that the organization is disappointed that its strong campaign to ensure a democratic framework for Central Asian elections held at the end of last year and early this year failed to meet its expectations. The list of disappointments he cites is impressive.

To begin with, the OSCE was critical of the October parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan, complaining of bias toward some candidates by local electoral commissions and intimidation of opposition candidates. Two months later, it declined even to send a monitoring mission to parliamentary elections in Turkmenistan, saying that the electoral framework failed to meet minimum standards. The organization sent only a limited mission to December's parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan, and later said that poll also fell short of OSCE standards.

In February, the OSCE was quite critical of the first-ever multiparty elections in Tajikistan -- although it did acknowledge that holding such elections in itself was an important development. Finally, the OSCE expressed disappointed in Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary elections, held the same month. The organization's report said the Kyrgyzstan poll was generally well-administered, but it criticized local regulations that prevented all parties and candidates from competing on an equal basis. It also complained of a high degree of official interference in the electoral process.

The senior OSCE official who spoke with our correspondent said that Ferrero-Waldner would discuss all these problems in her separate meetings with the presidents and other officials of all the nations she visits. The official said Ferrero-Waldner will also meet with members of political parties and non-governmental organizations groups in some of the five countries, and will encourage them to press for more democratic conditions in future elections.

The OSCE also says its chairman will also raise several human-rights issues during her visit to Central Asia. Among them is the repression of the opposition in Turkmenistan and the jailing of some opposition leaders in Kyrgyzstan. The OSCE says Ferrero-Waldner will discuss human-rights problems in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan as well.

Last year, the OSCE pledged itself to work for the full integration of the five Central Asian states' institutions and structures into the 54-state organization. A policy statement said that Central Asian states had a legitimate right to expect that the OSCE's European members would understand their problems and help to overcome them. The OSCE says next week's visit by the chairwoman is a reaffirmation of the organization's commitment to the region.