8 December 2003
NEWS BRIEFSRumsfeld: No Decision On Quartering U.S. Forces In Azerbaijan
Asked at a 3 December news conference in Baku whether the United States is planning to base U.S. forces in Azerbaijan, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that this has not yet been decided. "The core of the concept is that instead of large forces we intend to base rapid ones.... Currently we are having consultations with our partners in the coalition and our allies. Though there is a statement on launching this process, it is too early to speak about any results," Rumsfeld said.
Asked how Washington assesses the presidential elections in Azerbaijan, Rumsfeld avoided a direct answer, noting that the United States has "both military and socio-economic relations with Azerbaijan. Perhaps we will continue this cooperation with the new leadership of this country."
Touching on cooperation between the two countries in the Caspian and safeguarding marine borders, Rumsfeld said that "we will continue our cooperation with the Azeri side. Our support will increase the abilities of those safeguarding Azeri borders. We will also render assistance in combating illegal drug trafficking."
Local experts commented on Rumsfeld's visit to Baku and his statements. While some appreciate his visit, others take the opposite perspective. "Rumsfeld's visit proceeds from U.S. national interests," said Elkhan Mehdiev, head of the nongovernmental Center for Peace and Conflict Settlement. Mehdiev assessed the U.S. intention to cooperate with Azerbaijan in safeguarding marine borders in the Caspian as a step that developed from U.S.-Russian relations and that is directed against Iran. In a word, Washington intends to keep Tehran and Moscow out of the region, strengthening Azerbaijani naval forces.
But political scientist Leila Alieva suggested that although the agenda of Rumsfeld's visit was aimed at promoting U.S. interests in the region, Baku might benefit from it in some ways. (Natig Zeinalov and Zhale Mutallimova)
Azerbaijani President Dissatisfied With OSCE Minsk Group
"We have been living with a cease-fire for 10 years. This is a positive fact in itself. But, at the same time, the past 10 years indicate that the conflict has reached an extremely complicated phase. This also shows that the activity of the OSCE Minsk Group was unsuccessful and did not bring any result," said President Ilham Aliyev on 5 December, receiving OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmen Yurii Merzlyakov (Russia), Rudolf Perina (United States), and Henry Jacolin (France). Nevertheless, the co-chairmen themselves stressed that this time the Minsk Group came with new ideas but still refused to publicize them.
Novruz Mamedov, head of the Foreign Relations Department of the Azerbaijan Presidential Administration, told local television channels that the purpose of the co-chairmen's visit was the intensification of the debate about solving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Mamedov rejected allegations that the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents are to meet before the end of 2003.
According to former Deputy Foreign Minister Tofig Zulfugarov, at present the co-chairmen are striving to reanimate the negotiation process. Truly, it is still impossible to start negotiations at the level of heads of state, but a meeting at the level of foreign ministers is likely. New ideas and proposals can be generated only after resuming negotiations, Zulfugarov said. But at the moment it is meaningless to expect new proposals. (Shahnaz Beilergizi and Almaz Mahmudgizi)
Imprisoned Opposition Activists Launch Protest Fasts
On 1 December, dozens of opposition activists charged with staging the 15-16 October unrest in Baku launched a hunger strike, demanding the release of all people arrested in the course of the postelection crackdown, as well as a review of the disputed 15 October presidential vote. Outside the prison, some opposition groups and the spouses of the detainees decided to participate in the protest as well.
According to the Committee for the Protection of the 15-16 October Detainees' Rights, the number of the prisoners refusing to take food is 90, but this figure is not exact as it is difficult to get information from inside the prison.
The detainees' lawyer, Mirismail Hadi, said that the health of the hunger-strikers is deteriorating. Hadi claimed that the prison administration is exerting pressure on them, but Niazi Mamedov, chairman of the Chief Department for Execution of Court Rulings, denied this, claiming that 24 out of 33 protesters ended the hunger strike. Mamedov said that the hunger strikers will be force-fed if doctors recommend it. The International Red Cross Committee and the head of the OSCE Baku Office, Peter Burkhard, regularly visit the protesters. According to Burkhard, "there is nothing unusual in the prisoners' hunger strike." (Shahnaz Beilergizi and Kebiran Dilaverli)
Media Watchdog Calls For Release Of Opposition Editor
Reporters Without Borders once again expressed concern over the arrest of journalists following the 15 October presidential elections, while the Azerbaijani authorities insist that these people have been arrested as party activists.
Speaking about the purpose of his two-day visit to Baku, Reporters Without Borders head Robert Menar said at a 2 December news conference that he sought more specific information about the alleged violence against journalists on 15-16 October. According to Menar, the government flatly denies that authorities used violence against journalists. Interior Minister Ramil Usubov even stated that if there were cases of police arbitrariness, those responsible would be punished. But recent developments cast doubts on that statement, Menar noted. He also called for the release of Rauf Arifoglu, editor-in-chief of the opposition paper "Yeni Musavat," suggesting that his case could be investigated after he is released on bail. (Babek Bekir)
(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)