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Turkmenistan: In Sign Of Rising Tension, Ashgabat Expels Uzbek Ambassador

Turkmenistan has declared the Uzbek ambassador "persona non grata" and has expelled him for allegedly assisting in a reported assassination attempt on Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 25 November. This latest move has aggravated tensions between the two Central Asian neighbors.

Prague, 23 December 2002 (RFE/RL) - Turkmenistan has expelled the Uzbek ambassador to Ashgabat, accusing him of taking part in a reported assassination attempt on 25 November against Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

Ashgabat says the ambassador, Abdurashid Kadyrov, helped the main suspect in the case, former Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, enter the country. The Turkmen side also says Kadyrov gave Shikhmuradov shelter at the Uzbek Embassy.

Turkmen Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atajanova said that Shikhmuradov, who fled Turkmenistan last year after being accused of number of crimes, and other individuals acted with the help of the Uzbek side. "Shikhmuradov, as a true criminal, secretly entered Turkmenistan from Uzbek territory and with [Turkmen opposition member Saparmurat] Iklymov, [Turkmen businessman Guvanch] Djumaev, and others within Turkmenistan, tried to steal our peoples heart: the life of our leader, the great Saparmurat Turkmenbashi," Atajanova said.

The Uzbek Foreign Ministry has denied any involvement in the assassination attempt. Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov said that Shikhmuradov, as a longtime Turkmen foreign minister, may have had a number of Uzbek friends but that the Tashkent government was not involved. "The Uzbek side declares that authorities of Uzbekistan had no involvement, moreover, provided no assistance to Shikhmuradov in his entrance [to Turkmenistan]," Kamilov said.

The denial is clear, but Otanazar Aripov of the opposition Erk Party of Uzbekistan said the way in which the denial is worded creates doubts of its own. "The response leaves some basis for saying that Uzbekistan may have some involvement [in the alleged assassination on Niyazov]. It doesnt categorically deny any involvement. Otherwise, how should one interpret the point in the official note that says Boris Shikhmuradov may have friends and relations in Uzbekistan? This and other points in the statement creates the feeling that there might be some involvement," Aripov said.

Aripov said that because both countries are ruled by authoritarian governments, it's hard to know what really happened. "If there is any involvement from Uzbekistan, this is another product of the antidemocratic method of ruling [there], the fruit of an ideology of intolerance, because the Uzbek people and Uzbek society would not gain any benefit from such involvement," Aripov said.

The expulsion has greatly strained relations between the two countries. Some reports even say both governments are sending troops to the border areas.

But Madamin, a businessman from the Uzbek border town Manaq who travels every other day to Turkmenistan, said so far the situation is normal. "I just yesterday evening returned from Turkmenistan. Everything was as quite as usual. I paid the usual $6 [a fee to cross into Turkmenistan] and the situation at the border was normal. If something has happened after my return, I dont know about it. But I saw that five to six cars, mostly imported ones, were crossing the border without any problem. I havent heard anything about the closure of the Turkmen border," Madamin said.

It's not clear whether Uzbekistan will expel Turkmen Ambassador Soltan Pirmukhamedov. The Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported yesterday that Pirmukhamedov remains in Tashkent as the head of the diplomatic mission of Turkmenistan.