Uzbekistan officials have provided a rare glimpse into the country's usually murky foreign policy with neighboring states, particularly Afghanistan. Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov and Security Council chief Mir Akbar Rahmonkulov at a press conference this week accused the Taliban of harboring Islamic militants, but confirmed that bilateral discussions have taken place. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier reports:
Prague, 1 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov is calling on the Afghan Taliban militia to extradite Takhir Yuldash, one of Uzbekistan's most wanted criminals.
Kamilov told reporters this week (Nov 29) in Tashkent that Uzbekistan is ready for what he termed "considerable bilateral cooperation" if the Taliban agrees to hand over Yuldash, allegedly a leader of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU. Kamilov said the Uzbek government wants IMU members handed over to face justice at home.
Kamilov says fighters with the IMU are based mainly on Afghan territory:
"Presently these bandits (the IMU) are based mainly on the territory of Afghanistan and in the mountainous regions of eastern Tajikistan."
The Taliban militia denies that it harbors IMU militants. But that claim has been rejected by governments in Central Asia as well as Russia and the United States.
The IMU has made several armed incursions into Uzbekistan in the last two years and is blamed by the Uzbek government for an assassination attempt on the country's president in Tashkent almost two years ago.
Kamilov confirmed previous statements that the Uzbek government, through its ambassador in Pakistan, has been in contact with the Taliban. Previously, Uzbekistan was among the harshest critics of the ultra-orthodox Afghan movement. Kamilov also said his government does not rule out opening its borders with Afghanistan if, he says, there are guarantees to Uzbekistan's security.
But he rejected reports there is a deal in the works to supply the Taliban-controlled northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif with electricity in exchange for the extradition of IMU members.
Uzbekistan's Security Council chief Mir Akbar Rahmonkulov, speaking at the same news conference, also denied that Uzbekistan was considering allowing other countries to use its military bases to carry out attacks on Afghan territory.
Rahmonkulov was responding to unconfirmed published reports that the United States had obtained permission from Uzbekistan to use military bases outside Tashkent and in Termez, on the Afghan border, for strikes against terrorist bases run by international terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Rahmonkulov said no such deal was reached:
"Uzbekistan will never allow anyone to use its territory to carry out military actions (against neighboring states)."
The two foreign policy officials also addressed relations with Russia, with which it has often had strained relations.
Kamilov hinted better relations with Russia may be on the way by saying a draft agreement on a visa-free regime with Russia has been prepared and a final agreement will be signed soon.
This marks a change in attitude. When Uzbekistan left the CIS visa-free regime last year, the government cited the penetration of Russian organized crime groups into Uzbekistan as one reason for suspending the agreement.
Regional relations with CIS Central Asia neighbors received some attention, though most was negative. Kamilov denied that there were any Uzbek citizens were among the members of the IMU. This remark contradicts thousands of wanted posted throughout Uzbekistan showing members of the IMU and where they were born. Takhir Yuldash is one, born in the eastern Uzbek city of Namangan in 1968.
Kamilov said IMU members were mainly Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Tajiks. Concerning Tajiks, besides claiming the IMU has bases in eastern Tajikistan, Kamilov said casualties among Tajikistan's civilian population caused by landmines along the Uzbek-Tajik border are the responsibility of the Tajik government. It was further sign of deteriorating relations between the two.
(Akram Faisullo of the Uzbek Service and Soldjida Djakhfarova of the Tajik Service contributed to this report)