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Newsline - July 24, 2006

The presidents of eight of the 12 CIS member states met informally for dinner in Moscow on July 21, and continued discussions the following day, Russian media reported. The July 22 discussions focused on proposals by Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbaev for reforming CIS structures to render them more effective, reported. The most important of those proposed innovations is a requirement that all CIS decisions in the spheres of migration policy, transport, education, "modern challenges," and humanitarian affairs be adopted by consensus. The 12 presidents are to decide on that proposal at their next summit, to be held in Minsk in November 2006, Interfax quoted Nazarbaev as saying. He added that Russia should serve as the driving force for closer integration among CIS states. Other, unspecified participants argued in favor of a common CIS defense system. Armenia's Robert Kocharian did not attend, having caught a chill swimming earlier last week; Georgia's Mikheil Saakashvili stayed away after being informed it would not be possible to meet privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines; Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko opted out, citing domestic political tensions, according to dpa; and Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov has not attended an informal CIS summit since 2002. The culmination of the gathering was a horse race at the Moscow hippodrome in which a bay colt from Russia and a black colt from Azerbaijan finished neck and neck and shared first and second prize, reported. The Epsom Derby has ended in a dead heat only once in its 226-year history. LF

A Foreign Ministry spokesman announced on July 24 that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will attend an international conference on the Middle East in Rome on July 26, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21, 2006). The ministry issued a statement on July 22 calling for such a meeting, which would bring together the foreign ministers of Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, as well as representatives of the UN, EU, and World Bank, reported. The statement added that "we consider it necessary to hold a meeting of all the nations and bodies that are really able to assist in overcoming the crisis." Commentators noted that the list does not mention Israel, Syria, or Iran. The Italian authorities announced the meeting on July 21. In related news, the Foreign Ministry announced on July 22 that it will begin humanitarian aid shipments to Lebanon via Cyprus on July 24 "at the Lebanese government's request," reported. The ministry is waiting for assurances from Israel that the supplies will be allowed to pass safely. PM

Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Saltanov, who is a senior envoy to the Middle East, arrived in Israel on July 24 for talks aimed at restoring peace to the region, RIA Novosti reported. Saltanov began his mission on July 19 and has visited Jordan and Syria. He was scheduled to hold talks with Lebanese leaders in Beirut on July 21, but the trip was cancelled under circumstances that are unclear. It is also not clear where he has been in the meantime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 20 and 21, 2006). PM

President Putin told a meeting of regional governors on July 21 that he considers "impossible and harmful" any return to Soviet-style central planning on the model of the Committee for State Planning (Gosplan), ITAR-TASS reported. He added, however, that "drafting plans and programs is quite compatible with the conditions of the market economy." Putin said that "we shall raise this problem once again and...involve an analytical department of the Russian Security Council in that work. I believe that the Security Council should have a joint meeting with the Presidium of the State Council" to discuss the matter. The daily "Vremya novostei" reported on July 24 that Putin also said that all regions should develop along similar lines, and that none should be left behind. The daily commented that the governors would generally prefer to deal with regional problems on their own and have the central authorities provide "material assistance." They, as well as Putin, sent mixed signals at the July 21 meeting as to what they really want, the daily concluded (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 21, 2006). PM

First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told "Ekspert" of July 24 that he does not like the term "sovereign democracy," which many members of the political elite have come to use in recent months, reported. Medvedev stressed that any time one attaches a qualifier to the word democracy, it gives the impression that what is meant is something less than full-fledged democracy. He noted that this is precisely the impression that has been generated abroad by the use of the term sovereign democracy in Russia. Medvedev believes that sovereignty is important and goes together with democracy, but not as an adjective that appears to limit it. Vladislav Surkov, who is one of several deputy heads of the Kremlin's administration, has said that the term means that Russia is democratic, that it is free to define what its democracy is, and that any foreign concerns or doubts about how solid Russian democracy might be are tantamount to interference in Russian internal affairs (see "Kazakhstan: 'Sovereign Democracy' In Almaty And Moscow,", July 10, 2006). PM

Federal Migration Service Director Konstantin Romodanovsky was quoted by the daily "Izvestia" on July 24 as saying that the authorities plan to "repatriate" 300,000 ethnic Russians in the next three years, Interfax reported. "In the first year, we plan to bring in about 50,000 compatriots, in the second year 100,000, and in the third year 150,000. The program is intended for a period ending in 2012," Romodanovsky explained. He added that government agencies are working out the details. A pilot project will be set up in at least 12 regions in 2007 to help determine the total costs involved. He noted that the Federal Migration Service will set up bureaus abroad to implement the program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27 and July 3, 2006). The plan is aimed at offsetting the ongoing decline in population, which President Putin has spoken out about repeatedly. Some nationalist critics have charged that repatriation will not do much to offset that decline and that Putin is undermining any possible Russian claim to or role in former Soviet republics by encouraging ethnic Russians there to leave. Other critics say that the government should do more for illegal immigrants already in Russia before it brings in additional people. PM

Speaking in Makhachkala on July 20, Major General Sergei Solodovnikov, who is first deputy head of the Russian Interior Ministry's Main Administration for the Southern Federal District, called on Rappani Khalilov, the most prominent militant leader in Daghestan, to surrender by the August 1 deadline set by Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev for Chechen fighters to lay down their arms or risk being killed, the daily "Kommersant" reported on July 21 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17, 2006). Solodovnikov further claimed that seven commanders of militant groups in Daghestan's Khasavyurt Raion, which borders on eastern Chechnya, have been killed "recently." On July 21, the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic Antiterrorism Commission issued a similar appeal to members of illegal armed formations, including those who participated on the attacks on police and security facilities in Nalchik in October 2005, to surrender by the August 1 deadline, "Kommersant" reported on July 22. LF

Magomed Khambiyev was briefly detained in Derbent on July 23 when returning from Azerbaijan in the company of two unidentified Chechens who had taken refuge there, Russian media reported. Khambiyev, who served as Defense Minister under former Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, surrendered two years ago to the pro-Moscow authorities after dozens of his relatives were taken hostage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 9, 10, 11 and 12, 2004). He is a member of the pro-Moscow Chechen parliament elected last November, and in that capacity was sent by Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov to Azerbaijan to try to persuade former Maskhadov sympathizers living there to return to Chechnya. Khambiyev and his traveling companions were released later on July 23 after Kadyrov and a senior Russian military official intervened. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on July 24 quoted Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, chairman of the lower chamber of the Chechen parliament, as saying that Khambiyev will also travel to Turkey to meet with Chechen emigres there. LF

Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika on July 20 named Igor Tkachev to succeed Imam Yaraliyev as Daghestan's prosecutor, reported on July 22. Tkachev, who is a department head with the Prosecutor's Administration for the Southern Federal District, participated in the official investigation into the incursion by Chechen militants into Daghestan in 1999, and headed the investigation into the September 2004 Beslan hostage taking. He also interrogated Russian prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on suspicion of fighting on the side of the Taliban in Afghanistan. LF

The Zharangutiun (Heritage) party headed by U.S.-born former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian was again evicted on July 21 from the offices it rents in Yerevan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Its staff reoccupied the premises the previous day after winning a court action against the building's owners, who four months ago unilaterally annulled the rent agreement with Zharagutiun (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 7 and 23, April 4, May 31, and July 20, 2006). LF

An unspecified number of prisoners serving life sentences at Azerbaijan's notorious Gobustan jail embarked on a hunger strike on June 26 to demand that their life terms be replaced by 15-year terms, Azerbaijani media reported. The men were originally sentenced to death, but those sentences were commuted to life imprisonment after Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe and abolished the death penalty. One prisoner was quoted by on July 22 as saying that when the Supreme Court first reviewed his appeal, he was asked to pay a $20,000 bribe to have his life sentence reduced to 15 years, but was unable to raise that sum. A second prisoner argued that execution is more humane than life imprisonment. LF

Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on July 21 that Mikheil Saakashvili decided against traveling to Moscow to attend the informal CIS summit after Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze was informed that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not have time to meet one-on-one with Saakashvili on the summit sidelines, Georgian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 21, 2006). Saakashvili hoped to discuss with Putin tensions in bilateral relations arising from the ban Russia imposed in March on imports of Georgian wine and mineral water and the Georgian parliament's demand last week for the immediate withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping forces deployed in the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflict zones. LF

The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on July 21 protesting comments made the previous day during a visit to the Abkhaz capital Sukhum (Sukhumi) by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Caucasus Press reported. Luzhkov, who signed an investment agreement with Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh, was quoted as saying Moscow will build relations with Abkhazia as though that republic were a sovereign state, reported. The Georgian Foreign Ministry criticized that formulation as violating international law and as reflecting a policy "aimed at the annexation of Georgian territory." It warned that such pronouncements are likely to exacerbate even further the already tense relations between Georgia and Russia, and that any agreement concluded between Abkhazia and Moscow without Tbilisi's consent is illegal. LF .

Giorgi Khaindrava, dubbed by Russian media the only "dove" in a Georgian leadership otherwise dominated by the "party of war," was dismissed on July 21 from the post of minister for conflict resolution, Georgian media reported. In recent weeks Khaindrava criticized Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili over the outcome of the trial of four of his subordinates charged with murdering banker Sandro Girgvliani, and chastised a senior Defense Ministry official who detained Russian diplomats and military officers in the South Ossetian conflict zone even though they had diplomatic immunity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17, 2006). Irakli Alasania, who like Khaindrava took a moderate position on resolving the conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, was recently exiled to New York as Georgia's ambassador to the UN (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," June 23, 2006). "Izvestia" on July 24 termed Khaindrava's dismissal "a palace coup" intended to remove the last obstacle to a new offensive to restore Tbilisi's control over the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But Noghaideli stressed to the independent television channel Rustavi-2 on July 22 that Khaindrava's dismissal does not herald the end of Georgia's efforts to resolve the two conflicts peacefully. LF

In line with the Georgian Constitution, Khaindrava's dismissal, the sixth since the present government was formed, precipitated the resignation of the entire cabinet. Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli unveiled his new cabinet on July 22, Caucasus Press reported. It contained only two new faces: Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze succeeds Khaindrava as minister for conflict resolution, while Davit Tqeshelashvili takes over as environment minister from Giorgi Papuashvili, whose appointment as Constitutional Court chairman has been predicted for several weeks. LF

Jack Barabel, president of Strategic Investment Group, told a news conference in Bishkek on July 21 that Jerooyaltyn, a joint venture between the Kyrgyz state firm Kyrgyzaltyn and Austria's Global Gold, has received a license to develop the Jerooy gold field in Kyrgyzstan's Talas province, reported. Global Gold owns 60 percent of the joint venture, Kyrgyzaltyn the remainder. Citing data from the State Agency of Geology and Mineral Resources, reported that the Jerooy field contains more than 74 tons of ore with an average gold content of 6-7 grams per ton. DK

Britain's Oxus Gold, which has been stripped of its license to mine the Jerooy field, has appealed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair to help the company in its fight to regain the license, Britain's "Sunday Telegraph" reported on July 23. Oxus chief executive Bill Trew said he wants Blair to write directly to Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev about Oxus's two-year dispute with the Kyrgyz government over the revocation of its license. In a July 21 press release, Oxus stated that a decision by the Kyrgyz government to award the license to develop Jerooy to Global Gold would violate a Kyrgyz court ruling and a decision by the Kyrgyz parliament. Trew also noted that a negotiator for Oxus was recently shot in Bishkek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 10, 2006). Oxus, which says it has invested $50 million in Jerooy, is in the process of taking its dispute with the Kyrgyz government to international arbitration. A private attempt by Blair to intercede in the conflict resulted in a public rebuke from President Bakiev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 6, 2006). Maksat Jeenaliev, deputy head of Kyrgyzaltyn, announced on July 21 that the Kyrgyz government has filed a lawsuit against Oxus for $150 million in lost profits, reported. DK

Busurmankul Tabaldiev, head of Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service (SNB), announced on July 21 that the SNB's primary focus will be fighting terrorism and religious extremism, reported. Tabaldiev named the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir as an organization that needs to be countered. Also on July 21, police in the southern city of Osh remained on high alert after recent arrests there and a string of violent incidents in nearby Jalalabad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 11, 17, 20, and 21, 2006), Kyrgyz television reported. On July 20, the Prosecutor-General's Office reported that its investigation of six people charged in connection with a May 12 border incursion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 15, 2006) revealed that the accused had ties to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), East Turkestan Liberation Organization, and Hizb ut-Tahrir, reported. DK

Tajik police have arrested a suspected member of the IMU in a special operation in Istaravshon, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on July 22. A police source told the news agency that Mahmud Siddiqov "provided other active members of the IMU in Istaravshon, Rasul Okhunov, Gayrat Ishqulov, Nodir Haydarov, and Abdurahmon Qodirov, with housing. He also provided them with financial support." The report noted that two other men with suspected IMU ties, Abdumajid Nozirov and Gayrat Ishqulov, have recently been arrested. DK

General Sheravliyo Mirzoavliyoev, head of Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency department in Sughd province, said that his agency has virtually no official cooperation with Uzbekistan, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on July 22. "We don't have any cooperation ties with Uzbekistan," Mirzoavliyoev said. "The agency has approached our neighbor several times and expressed the wish to work together, but those inquiries received no answers." Mirzoavliyoev said that some informal cooperation takes place between drug-enforcement officers from the two countries, and he expressed the hope that official cooperation will improve following Uzbekistan's recent accession to the Eurasian Economic Community. DK

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived in Minsk on July 23 on a two-day official visit, Belapan and Reuters reported. "I have come to Minsk to conclude a pact of unity and to lay the foundation stone for future relations between Belarus and Venezuela," Chavez told journalists at Minsk's airport. "Belarus is a model of a socialist state, which we are also building.... We must defend the interests of the individual and not the hegemonic interests of the capitalists, wherever they may be, in Europe or Latin America," he added. The agenda of the visit includes talks with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and visits to a military academy and an outdoor military museum. From Belarus, Chavez is to travel to Russia, Qatar, Iran, Vietnam, and Mali. JM

Yuliya Tymoshenko, head of the eponymous political bloc, told journalists in Kyiv on July 24 that 125 deputies have signed a declaration to leave her bloc's parliamentary caucus, Ukrainian media reported. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) has also adopted an appeal to lawmakers from the pro-presidential Our Ukraine to make a similar move and give up their parliamentary seats. Tymoshenko argues that, under a constitutional provision, if more than 150 lawmakers abandon the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, the president would have the right to dissolve parliament and call for new elections. In this way, the BYuT hopes to prevent the "anti-crisis" coalition recently forged by the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party from forming a government in Ukraine. The BYuT has 129 parliamentary mandates and Our Ukraine 81. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko said in a radio address to the nation on July 22 that, in accordance with the constitution, he has 15 days to consider the motion of the parliamentary coalition of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party to submit a candidate for the post of prime minister for parliamentary approval. The candidacy of Viktor Yanukovych for this post was officially submitted by the coalition to President Yushchenko on July 18. Lawmaker Raisa Bohatyryova from the Party of Regions told journalists on July 24 that Yushchenko may submit Yanukovych's candidacy to parliament on July 24 or 25. The constitution gives the Ukrainian president the right to dissolve parliament if it fails to form a majority within 30 days after its first sitting or to form a new cabinet within 60 days after the dismissal or resignation of the previous one. Caretaker Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov's cabinet officially resigned on May 25, so Yushchenko might practically disband the Verkhovna Rada on July 25, as Ukraine still has no new cabinet. JM

UN envoy and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari is playing down expectations for a breakthrough in high-level direct talks between Serbian and ethnic Albanian officials about the future of Kosova scheduled for July 24, Reuters reported the same day. "We all know what the positions are, and they are far, far apart," Ahtisaari's spokeswoman Hua Jiang said. She added that the meeting will give both Belgrade and Prishtina a chance to "formally present and clarify their positions." Ahtisaari proposed the talks, which to be held in Vienna and include the presidents and prime ministers of Serbia and Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17, 2006). BW

During an official visit to Belgrade on July 21, Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said both Serbia and Croatia belong in the European Union, dpa reported the same day. "I see Croatia and Serbia in united Europe. I see them as the foundation of political security in this part of Europe," he said. Sanader added that following "the application of the action plan" to capture war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, "Serbia will sign the Stabilization and Association Agreement" with the EU "by the end of the year." On July 17, Serbia presented the EU with a blueprint to capture Mladic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 18, 2006). Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said that bilateral relations have improved and that it is of "great interest for both Serbia and Croatia to enter Europe." Earlier in the visit, the two prime ministers opened the reconstructed Batrovci-Bajakovo border crossing. BW

In an interview published by Austria's "Die Presse" on July 23, Montenegrin Foreign Minister Miodrag Vlahovic said Podgorica will seek to join NATO in three years, dpa reported the same day. "At the latest in September, we want to continue the talks with the EU about a Stabilization and Association Agreement, and in about three years we want to be a NATO member," he said. Vlahovic added that the best way to heal the deep split in Montenegrin society over independence is to reconcile the two camps around "a joint European agenda" that would include joining the EU and NATO. "Ninety percent of Montenegrins have the view that accession to the EU must be the highest strategic goal. That links us all." BW

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) announced on July 21 that it will not recognize the results of Transdniester's proposed independence referendum, Interfax reported the same day. "The OSCE does not support a unilateral referendum questioning Moldova's territorial integrity and does not intend to monitor it," OSCE Chairman and Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht said, according to the OSCE's Mission in Moldova. "The referendum on [Transdniester's] future status will be made possible only by a political decision, agreement at the negotiating table, and when all necessary conditions for free and fair voting have been provided," de Gucht added. Transdniester's parliament voted unanimously on July 12 to hold the referendum on September 17 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17, 2006). BW

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin said on July 21 that Chisinau intends to remain in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "Our political leaders are confident...that their country needs the CIS and [will] work with this organization," Voronin said at a CIS summit in Moscow. "You don't have to convince our population of how important it is to be in the CIS. Our people support membership of the CIS and close relations with Russia," Voronin added. He noted that opposition lawmakers in Moldova attempted to pass legislation withdrawing from the CIS, but abandoned the effort due to a lack of support. Referring to Russian dominance of the organization, Voronin added, however, that "there should be no junior countries or senior countries in the CIS." BW

A series of violent incidents and arrests in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan has prompted officials in both countries to warn of a renewed terrorist threat, even though evidence to corroborate those accusations is scarce. In contrast to earlier such accusations, the present deterioration in relations comes as Kyrgyzstan is seeking closer ties with Uzbekistan, while Tajik-Uzbek relations are deteriorating. On July 14, Kyrgyz security forces in Jalalabad killed five suspected members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). A spokesman for Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service (SNB) said that the men participated in bombings in Tashkent and in a 2003 attack on a market in Bishkek. A police source in Jalalabad said the militants "planned to use a Kamaz truck loaded with explosives to destroy the regional police department" in Jalalabad. According to the SNB, the men were also linked to two separate incidents in Jalalabad on July 9 and 10 in which a traffic policeman was killed and two policemen were wounded.

On July 17, SNB head Busurmankul Tabaldiev told Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev that planning for the July 14 operation began after a cross-border incursion on May 12. In that incident, a group of armed men crossed from Tajikistan to Kyrgyzstan, killing three Tajik border guards and a Kyrgyz customs official. Kyrgyz security agencies mobilized more than 200 men to find and neutralize the armed group, killing four militants, capturing one, and losing four men in the operation. Officials in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan were quick to allege IMU involvement in the incursion, although other sources suggested a drug-smuggling group may have been behind it.

Meanwhile, neighboring Tajikistan has also reported heightened militant activity. At a July 17 briefing in Dushanbe, Interior Minister Humdin Sharifov told journalists that Tajik police arrested 10 IMU members in the first half of 2006, Regnum and RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Sharifov blamed IMU members for a string of violent attacks in Tajikistan, including two bomb blasts in Dushanbe in 2005, an attack on an Interior Ministry facility in Qayroqqum in January 2006, and the murder of a Defense Ministry official. Sharipov claimed that the IMU members made their way to Tajikistan from Uzbekistan, where they arrived after undergoing training in Afghanistan, Regnum reported.

In the course of arrests and trials, Tajik officials have provided some details of the IMU's alleged activities. After police arrested four suspected IMU members in Sughd Province on July 14, a police source told Asia Plus-Blitz that security forces searched the suspects' homes and found "laptops with files containing texts of a religious and extremist nature calling for jihad, a DVD with a call for 'holy war,' and extremist literature in the Uzbek language."

At the May 22 sentencing of seven people accused of IMU-linked extremist activities, RFE/RL's Tajik Service quoted Sughd Prosecutor Abdughaffor Qalandarov as saying that the local IMU cell was led by Jumaboy Hojiev, an Uzbek citizen and one-time representative of former IMU leader Juma Namangani, who is believed to have been killed during U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan in 2001. It should be noted, however, that a defense lawyer stated: "[The defendants] themselves said in court that they were not terrorists or members of any extremist group. They were forced under torture to admit to these crimes."

Reports of IMU activity in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan come at a time when relations between those two countries and Uzbekistan -- where the government of President Islam Karimov has long been the ultimate target of the IMU -- are heading in very different directions. Tajik-Uzbek relations -- never noted for their warmth -- have recently taken a marked turn for the worse in the wake of tit-for-tat spying allegations and Tajik charges that Uzbekistan has allowed more than 10 training camps for supporters of Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev -- who was behind a failed 1998 coup attempt in Tajikistan -- to operate on Uzbek territory. More recently, Uzbekistan cut off gas shipments to Tajikistan on July 20 over arrears of $7.64 million that Uzbekistan says it is owed, reported. In a reciprocal move, Tajikistan, which claims it owes only $3 million, blocked shipments of Uzbek gas through Tajikistan to eastern Uzbekistan, AP reported.

Meanwhile, Uzbek-Kyrgyz ties, which hit a low in 2005 when Kyrgyzstan sheltered hundreds of refugees from Uzbekistan after the May unrest in Andijon, have begun to improve, as reflected in increased counterterrorism cooperation. At his July 17 meeting with SNB head Busurmankul Tabaldiev to discuss the operation in which five suspected IMU members were killed in Jalalabad, Kyrgyz President Bakiev noted that during a recent telephone conversation, he and his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov agreed to step up cooperation between the two countries' law-enforcement agencies to combat threats. Kyrgyzstan's "Bely parokhod" reported on July 19 that Kyrgyz security forces were in close contact with their Uzbek colleagues in the lead-up to the July 14 Jalalabad operation. Bakiev and Karimov also met on the sidelines of the July 21-22 informal Commonwealth of Independent States summit in Moscow.

In another sign of possible Kyrgyz-Uzbek cooperation, a police spokesperson in Osh confirmed to on July 20 that Gulmira Maqsudova, the daughter of Akram Yuldoshev, was arrested in Osh on July 18 on forgery charges. Yuldoshev, who has been imprisoned in Uzbekistan since 1999, is the purported leader of Akramiya, a group the Uzbek authorities have alleged was behind the unrest in Andijon in May 2005 (a claim that has been vigorously disputed). reported that Maqsudova is one of nine people arrested in Osh in connection with Akramiya and the Andijon events. The news agency said they face charges of forgery, organizing a criminal group, and preparing acts of terror.

These events raise two key questions. The first is how increased counterterrorism cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan will affect the domestic situation in Kyrgyzstan. Recent events indicate that the Kyrgyz authorities are taking a harder line in fighting extremism, which would be in keeping with Tashkent's policies.Further evidence of this came on July 19, when Kyrgyz Interior Minister Murat Sutalinov asked for armored vehicles and better automatic weapons at a meeting to discuss fighting terrorists and members of the banned extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, news agency reported.

Another sign of possible Uzbek influence on Kyrgyz counterterrorism efforts is the tendency to conflate Hizb ut-Tahrir -- which advocates the establishment of a caliphate throughout Central Asia but officially eschews violence -- with the IMU, a terrorist organization with ties to Al-Qaeda. This conflation has long been a staple of Uzbek official pronouncements and has figured prominently in a number of trials in Uzbekistan.

A July 14 report by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) highlighted this tendency in Kyrgyzstan, quoting Batken regional Prosecutor Ryskul Baktybaev as saying, "There is a direct link between members of Hizb ut-Tahrir and the IMU." (Kyrgyz ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu took issue with that argument, telling IWPR that the two organizations are "opposing trends that hate each other and accuse one another of not being true Muslims.")

The second question is the veracity of official Kyrgyz and Tajik reports of stepped-up IMU activity. This is a long-standing problem throughout the region, as Central Asian governments have a well-documented history of using the threat of extremism to justify politically motivated crackdowns, alleging militant activity without providing credible evidence, failing to conduct adequate investigations in the wake of violent incidents, and obtaining convictions on the basis of confessions extracted under highly dubious circumstances.

That track record does not necessarily invalidate officials' recent statements, but it makes it difficult to draw conclusions beyond the above-noted indications that Kyrgyz authorities may be adopting a more "Uzbek-style" approach to combating extremism.

Against this backdrop, the current status of the IMU remains unclear. Experts questioned by RFE/RL in February offered diverging answers to the question "Is The Islamic Movement Of Uzbekistan Really Back?" But an intriguing report by Syed Saleem Shahzad in the Asia Times Online on July 8 suggested that the IMU, which fled Afghanistan after the rout of the Taliban in 2001, may be on the rise again in Pakistan.

Shahzad's report is based on a late June interview conducted in northern Pakistan with "Abdullah," the son of a man identified as Sheikh Ibrahim, IMU leader Tohir Yuldoshev's second-in-command. Stating that "the money is now with [Tohir Yuldoshev]," Abdullah said that he did not know the source of the funds but "personally witnessed" Yuldoshev receiving money in recent years from private persons in Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Abdullah also said that Russian media reports of contacts between Yuldoshev and the CIA led to a split within the IMU and cast a pall over Yuldoshev's traditionally close relations with Al-Qaeda. According to Abdullah, Yuldoshev subsequently circulated a recorded message explaining that allegations of CIA ties were a "smear campaign" that began after Yuldoshev rejected a proposal from unidentified Russians who "offered him a deal to finance him and provide arms and ammunition to fight against the Americans in Afghanistan, on conditions that he give up his struggle in Uzbekistan." With this episode apparently behind him, Yuldoshev has been more active of late in joint efforts with Taliban commanders to fight U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, Asia Times Online reported.

The account contained no information about IMU operations in Central Asia. But if Abdullah's claims and the report of a rejuvenated Yuldoshev in Pakistan and Afghanistan are accurate, they would suggest that a heightened level of IMU activity on its home turf is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Afghan forces on July 24 said they killed 19 suspected neo-Taliban insurgents in a fierce battle in southern Afghanistan, AP reported. The fighting erupted on July 23 in Helmand Province, about 15 kilometers south of the town of Lashkar Gah. Provincial Deputy Governor Mullah Amir Mohammed Akhundza said the fighting broke out as police were tracking down suspected insurgents in the area. Seventeen other neo-Taliban fighters were caught in the battle, which involved small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. Hundred of Afghan security forces took part in the fight, Helmand police chief Ghulam Nabi Malakhail said. The report left unclear whether any Afghan forces were hurt or killed in the incident, the latest episode of intense fighting in the area. MR

A bomb blast on July 23 on the Afghan border with Pakistan killed one and injured three, AFP reported. It was unclear whether the casualties were civilian or military. The blast took place in Khost Province along the Afghan-Pakistan border, where neo-Taliban fighters frequently appear. The blast may have been a suicide attack, provincial police chief Mohammad Ayub said. Afghan authorities in Kabul said the attack was apparenty aimed at a police checkpoint in the area. Neo-Taliban fighters claimed responsibility for two suicide bombing in Kandahar on July 22 that killed four Afghan civilians and two Canadian soldiers. More than 30 people, including eight foreign troops, were wounded in the Kandahar attack. MR

Local authorities said on July 23 that the intelligence chief of Rustaq District in Takhar Province was caught with 33 kilograms of heroin, AFP reported. The official arrested was not named in the report. But national secret-police chief Abdul Wahab Khetab told AFP that the man was caught last week on the border of Tajikistan. "He was carrying 33 kilograms of heroin in his government-owned vehicle," Khetab said. Afghanistan remains the world's top producer of opium, which often is processed into heroin and transported to Europe. MR

Suspected neo-Taliban insurgents killed three policemen at a checkpoint in southern Afghanistan on July 23 and abducted three others, AFP reported. Insurgents attacked a police post in Ghazni late on July 23, local authorities said. "The Taliban attacked and killed three policemen and kidnapped three others," said a regional official who spoke on condition of anonymity. MR

Former President Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in Tehran on July 21 that events in Lebanon and in Gaza were "engineered by the U.S. and Israel," state radio reported. The plan was prepared "weeks in advance," he said. Rafsanjani criticized international human rights organizations for their silence on these events. The Lebanese and Hizballah have survived and "resisted well," he said, adding, "They are the heroes, both Hizballah members and the Hizballah leader, our dear brother Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah. He is truly a historical figure in our world today." Hashemi-Rafsanjani suggested that southern Lebanon might be occupied by foreign pro-Israeli forces. He explained, "To remove their citizens, several powerful countries, such as Canada, America, and Britain, are bringing in military troops. Of course it is apparently for taking out their citizens but [other] things could happen." Friday Prayer leaders are appointed by the central government and their sermons are dictated -- or at least outlined -- by a central authority. There were similar sermons in many other cities, including Ahvaz (Hojatoleslam Mohsen Heidari), Ardabil (Hojatoleslam Hassan Ameli), Bandar Abbas (Ayatollah Gholam Ali Naimabadi), Mashhad (Hojatoleslam Seyyed Ahmad Elmolhoda), and Zanjan (Hojatoleslam Mohammad Taqi Vaezi), various Iranian news agencies reported. BS

Iranian Deputy Health Minister Moayed Alavian led a delegation to Beirut on July 21, IRNA reported. Alavian said Iran will provide medical care and pharmaceuticals and added that, so far, two planeloads of aid have arrived in Damascus and are being transferred to Lebanon. Two days later, on July 23, a joint statement from four of Iran's top clerics -- Grand Ayatollahs Nasser Makarem-Shirazi, Mohammad Fazel-Lankarani, Lotfullah Safi-Golpaygani, and Javad Aqa-yi Tabrizi -- said they will allocate a percentage of the funds they receive to the Lebanese people, Mehr News Agency reported. Makarem-Shirazi and Nuri-Hamedani added that other religious funds could be used to help Palestinians and Lebanese. Nuri-Hamedani explained: "This would be permitted as a means of strengthening the oppressed people of Lebanon, the Hizballah resistance front, as well as the oppressed Palestinians who are engaged in an Islamic jihad to defend themselves against diabolical and arrogant powers." BS

General Mohammad Hejazi, commander of the Basij, said in Tehran on July 21 that groups with no official connections or proper authorization have raised the possibility of dispatching volunteer suicide bombers to Lebanon, Fars News Agency reported. Earlier in the week, a spokesman for the Commemoration Headquarters for the Martyrs of Islam's World Movement said members who have been trained to carry out suicide bombings have been sent to Lebanon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17, 2006). Hejazi said this is nothing more than "propaganda," and although it might be well-intentioned it does not help Iran or Hizballah. "There no doubt exist better ways to defend the Islamic resistance," he added. Hejazi also dismissed allegations that Iran is supplying Hizballah with weaponry, saying Israel makes unsubstantiated statements to hide "its own failures." Major General Hassan Firuzabadi, head of the Armed Forces General Staff, said on July 22 that there will be no Iranian military involvement in the Lebanese conflict, IRNA reported. "The Islamic Republic of Iran will just continue its political and diplomatic support for Lebanon," he said. Firuzabadi added that U.S. President George W. Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair planned the war. BS

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki announced on July 23 in Tehran that there are "difficulties" in the fulfillment of a contract to supply India with natural gas, India's PTI news agency reported. The original contract -- to supply 5 million tons of liquified natural gas (LNG) over 25 years -- set a maximum price of $3.25 per mBTU. Now, Iran reportedly wants $5.1 per mBTU. India is insisting that Iran meet its commitment, and it is adamant that the deal will not be renegotiated. BS

Iranian military attacks against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) positions in northern Iraq are displacing noncombatants, Iraqi Kurdistan's Interior Minister Uthman al-Haj Mahmud said on 22 July, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the next day. The official said an Iranian artillery and rocket barrage forced residents of eight villages to flee. He called for a resumption of dialogue to resolve problems with the PKK. BS

Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, the Iranian ambassador to Iraq, and Iraqi Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs Shirvan Vaeli discussed the future of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MEK) on July 21 in Baghdad, IRNA reported. The MEK is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department and operates under many names, including the National Council of Resistance of Iran and the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran. The MEK was based in Iraq and operated against Iran at former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's behest; most of its members now reside in Camp Ashraf where they enjoy the Geneva Conventions' "protected person" status. The Iraqi official reportedly called for the group's expulsion from his country, and he added, "We are now preparing a comprehensive plan which requires approval of the government to expel the MEK from the country by the year's end." Earlier in the week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told reporters in Baghdad that the MEK is interfering in internal Iraqi affairs and must go (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 20, 2006). "A significant number of MEK personnel have voluntarily left the Ashraf group, and several hundred of them have been voluntarily repatriated to Iran," according to the State Department's 2006 "Country Reports on Terrorism." BS

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki arrived in London for talks with British officials on July 24, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Al-Maliki told BBC radio in an interview that Iraq will not slip into civil war. Al-Maliki, who announced the start of a national initiative towards reconciliation on July 22 (see next item), said the government has reached an agreement to confront militias and "deal with them." He also told the BBC that he expects the number of foreign forces stationed in Iraq to be reduced by year-end. Following meetings with U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and other senior officials, al-Maliki will depart for Washington, where he is scheduled to meet with President George W. Bush on July 25. The prime minister's delegation to Great Britain and the United States includes the foreign, oil, electricity, commerce, and planning ministers, and several parliamentarians. KR

Al-Maliki, along with President Jalal Talabani and parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani, spoke with reporters in Baghdad on July 22 following the first meeting of the national reconciliation initiative, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Talabani welcomed the "purely Iraqi" initiative, saying the government formed by al-Maliki is one of "national unity and national salvation." He added that separate national dialogue conferences for civil society organizations, Iraqi tribes, and clergymen will soon get under way across the country. Al-Maliki said that the initiative represents a democratic process. "Those who are opposing the national reconciliation process...are seeking to restore dictatorship, tyranny, and discrimination among the citizens of one state," he said. "They want a regime of one party, one person, and one sect. Through the reconciliation process, we want to prove that we are Iraqis who are [all] equal and have one stand under the umbrella of the constitution." He also told reporters that members of the national reconciliation committee are coordinating with the preparatory committee for the Cairo conference on national reconciliation. KR

Prime Minister al-Maliki and parliament speaker al-Mashhadani appeared to express differing opinions during their July 22 comments to reporters on just which groups will be eligible to take part in the reconciliation process, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Al-Maliki told reporters that the government "welcomes any party that expresses willingness to join the political process," but then added that "Those who are involved in crimes and violations and whose hands are stained with blood must be referred to trial before they take part" in the dialogue process, including those who committed crimes against U.S. forces. Meanwhile, al-Mashhadani told reporters: "The parties that we cannot reconcile with are those that deliberately killed an Iraqi citizen [for sectarian reasons]. If we hold the person who kills a U.S. soldier accountable for his act because the soldier represents the occupation, then we must hold the U.S. soldier accountable for killing an Iraqi individual because that individual resists the occupation. As a result, the entire U.S. regime would need to be judged and we would not make peace with it, thereby creating a crisis." KR

The Al-Dujayl trial resumed on July 24 without the participation of defendant and former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who was hospitalized a day earlier after more than two weeks on hunger strike, international media reported. Chief prosecutor Ja'far al-Musawi told reporters on July 23 that Hussein is being fed through a feeding tube in hospital and was not expected to attend the next day's session, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Hussein's lawyer Khalil al-Dulaymi told Al-Jazeera television on July 23 that the defense panel will not attend the July 24 session, so as to not risk legitimizing and endorsing an unfair verdict by the court. Meanwhile, a U.S. military spokesman said that Hussein's condition is not life threatening. Hussein's half-brother and co-defendant Barzan al-Tikriti announced at the July 24 session that he refused his court-appointed attorney and asked to be excused from the session. "I am here against my will," Reuters quoted him as saying. KR

The Iraqi cabinet has accepted the resignation of Transportation Minister Karim Mahdi Salih and has appointed current Agriculture Minister Ya'rub Nazim al-Abbudi as acting transportation minister, Iraqi media reported on July 20. Salih, who is a supporter of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, told KUNA that the reason for his resignation was "retirement," the news agency reported on July 21. The news agency also reported that Tourism and Antiquities Minister Liwa Sumaysim and Minister of State for Provinces Sa'd Tahir Al-Hashimi, both supporters of the al-Sadr group, submitted their resignations one month ago. The news agency further quoted a press release from the prime minister's office as saying that some officials will be dismissed for taking a careless approach to their duties. KR