Workers are setting up demarcation posts along the Kyrgyz-Chinese border despite calls from Kyrgyzstan's parliament to stop the project. Parliament deputies say they have never seen the agreement between China and the Kyrgyz president ceding some 125,000 hectares of land to China. They argue that without ratification in parliament, the land deal is illegal. The dispute marks a rare instance in Central Asia of a parliament contesting the will of the executive branch. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier has the story.
Prague, 29 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- In Kyrgyzstan, confusion is mounting over who has the right to decide where the country's borders should lie. In the country's northeast, new demarcation lines are being drawn which give neighboring China some 125,000 hectares of Kyrgyz territory. Deputies in Kyrgyzstan's lower house of parliament say they never saw documents agreeing to cede the land. The Kyrgyz Constitution says that all land deals must be ratified by parliament in order to become legal.
The border controversy comes only months after the Kyrgyz government was forced to denounce a supposedly secret memorandum in which the Kyrgyz prime minister agreed to hand over territory to another neighbor, Uzbekistan.
Arslan MAliyev is a deputy in the Legislative Assembly, Kyrgyzstan's lower house of parliament. He and other deputies are calling for a stop to the current demarcation of the border with China, and demanding that Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev cancel the agreement.
"The president has already signed this agreement, but so far it hasn't been presented to parliament. And no one has explained why."
It is actually two border agreements with China that are in dispute -- one signed in 1996 and the other in 1999. The current Kyrgyz parliament, which was elected last year, says the first agreement was never ratified by parliament. The second, deputies say, was never even presented for discussion.
The process of placing markers along the Kyrzyz-China border began 5 June. A week later, deputies called for the demarcation to be halted and urged President Akaev to nullify the agreements. Akaev left for China that day to attend a conference of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization regional alliance. No public announcements on the border issue were made by either Akaev or Chinese President Jiang Zemin at the Shanghai conference.
Kyrgyz citizens have begun their own protest of the secretive land deal. Some 100 residents of the capital Bishkek turned out Tuesday (26 June) in front of the parliament building to call for the denunciation of both border agreements. Police called the demonstration an unsanctioned rally and threatened to start legal proceedings against the participants.
The parliament has asked Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev to explain the agreements. Bakiev has yet to speak to deputies in the lower house, but he has addressed the People's Assembly, the upper house of the Kyrgyz parliament. On 12 June he visited the Assembly, accompanied by Foreign Minister Muratbek ImanAliyev and Salamat Alamanov, the head of the government's border demarcation department. In a closed-door session, the upper house decided to put the issue off until autumn.
Alisher Abdimomunov, chairman of the lower house's Foreign Affairs Committee, says he invited the foreign, defense and justice ministers as well as the government chief of staff to attend a parliamentary session on 27 June. None of the invited officials attended, sending instead what were described as "low-ranking" officials who were reportedly unable to answer the committee's questions on the border issue.
Several members of the Kyrgyzstan Party in the lower house are protesting the agreements by boycotting parliament. Deputy MAliyev said his group does not want to pursue any other parliamentary business until the border question is properly addressed.
"Our deputy group thinks that while this question remains unresolved, no other questions should be considered."
The boycott is the latest sign that the Kyrgyz parliament is becoming more willing to challenge the country's executive branch. When Kyrgyz newspapers began printing reports of Prime Minister Bakiev's secret land deal with Uzbekistan earlier this year, the parliament protested the move, eventually prompting the government to denounce the deal. It remains to be seen whether this most recent round of protests will have a similar outcome. For now, demarcation work continues at the Kyrgyz-China border.
(Naryn Idinov of the Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)