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Central Asia Report: May 9, 2002

9 May 2002, Volume 2, Number 18

EX-SECURITY CHIEF AND HENCHMEN TO FACE TRIAL IN TURKMENISTAN. Turkmenistan's Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atadjanova announced on 7 May that criminal charges had been brought against the ex-chairman of the National Security Committee (KNB, former KGB), Mukhammed Nazarov, and 21 of his subordinates from the KNB, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. Simultaneously ex-Defense Minister Kurbandurdy Begendjev, who like Nazarov was fired in March, was charged with four counts of corruption.

The Prosecutor-General's Office unveiled the charges on 6 May at a closed-door meeting with President Saparmurat Niyazov, who told Turkmen TV that the cases would be sent directly to the Supreme Court. The defendants allegedly committed 80 crimes all told. Nazarov, who had often been seen as the second-most powerful man in the country, was accused of 11 crimes, including murder, procuring prostitutes, bribe taking, and fraud, AP said. Meanwhile his fellow security officers were charged with crimes ranging from murder and torturing suspects to unsanctioned searches, drug-running, and embezzlement, RFE/RL reported. As a result of their criminal activities, Atadjanova said, five people had died in custody, 69 had been arrested and 16 searched without proper cause, and 22 had been beaten and humiliated with electric-shock torture, Turkmen TV and reported on 7 May. The defendants face sentences of between 15 and 20 years, Atadjanova noted. Meanwhile Niyazov said that "even though I have a soft heart, I do not plan to amnesty them" and that Nazarov's crimes "have been completely proven" -- although the president paid at least lip service to due process by adding that "his crimes are ready to be brought to court," Turkmen TV reported.

The announcement followed a two-month investigation into KNB activities, which was opened on 4 March in tandem with an official anticorruption campaign that resulted in a wide-scale purge of Turkmenistan's security services by Niyazov (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 14 March 2002). In recent weeks the president has also reshuffled numerous military, border guard, and regional officials. The former head of the Turkmen State Border Service, Tirkish Tyrmyev, is among those due to be tried by the Supreme Court together with Nazarov, Turkmen TV mentioned on 6 May.

On the same day, the latest victims of the ongoing purge were announced: the chairman of Turkmenistan's National Bank, Seitbai Gandymov, and the head of Turkmenistan's main television channel, Dovletmurat Annamuradov, who were dismissed by Niyazov on 6 May during a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers, where Gandymov also served as deputy chairman. Gandymov was accused of embezzling state funds, nepotism, and "immodesty," according to the newspaper "Neitralnyi Turkmenistan." In his capacity as deputy chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers, he was replaced by Economy and Finance Minister Enebay Ataeva, RFE/RL said on 8 May, adding that no new National Bank chairman had been appointed yet. Meanwhile Annamuradov was supposedly sacked "for producing substandard programs," Turkmenistan's Altyn Asyr TV said.

But according to the television report, the new head of the KNB, Poran Berdyev, also hinted at political reasons behind Gandymov's dismissal when he told the Cabinet of Ministers meeting that Gandymov had links to Khudaiberdy Orazov, former National Bank chief and deputy prime minister in charge of finance, and to Nurmukhammed Khanamov, former Turkmen ambassador to Turkey. In recent months both men joined Turkmenistan's opposition-in-exile that is based in Moscow and Istanbul. At the same meeting on 6 May, Niyazov mentioned a plan to beef up the KNB above and beyond the 5,000 people who already work there. Analysts have speculated that Niyazov's decision to purge and restructure the Turkmen security apparatus is related to its failure to deal with his political opponents. The People's Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan has been raising its profile since last autumn with major figures defecting from Niyazov's camp. Former Foreign Minister and now leader of the opposition Boris Shikhmuradov, who has been stumping for support in the United States, told American audiences last week that Niyazov spread false information about economic conditions in Turkmenistan, talking down its foreign debt, exaggerating economic growth rates and profits from gas sales to Ukraine, and lying about bumper harvests (see "Turkmenistan: Opposition Leader On U.S. Tour Continues Criticism Of His Government,", 7 May 2002).

Meanwhile on 7 May, Niyazov's government announced an ambitious program to increase oil production by 60 percent in 2002 over last year's figures, and natural gas production by 40 percent, AP reported. The plan calls for 13.5 million metric tons of crude to be produced in 2002, of which 2.7 million tons are to be exported, and 70.8 billion cubic meters of gas, of which 56.6 billion cubic meters are for export, mainly to Ukraine, Russia, and Iran, the news agency said.

KYRGYZ DEPUTIES PRESSED AGAIN TO RATIFY BORDER TREATY WITH CHINA. Addressing a joint session of the upper and lower houses of the Kyrgyz parliament on 7 May, Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev asked the deputies to ratify the 1999 Sino-Kyrgyz treaty on border delimitation in time for the summit of presidents of the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which will take place in June in St. Petersburg, Kabar and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. His speech also praised Kyrgyzstan's security relationship with the U.S., which Akaev said did not jeopardize ties with Russia, and warned opposition politicians not to exploit the tragic events in Aksy Raion on 17-18 March for their own ends. The three themes were connected insofar as Kyrgyzstan is also trying to balance relations between Washington and Beijing, while the clashes in Aksy, which left six people dead, were sparked by the government's prosecution of parliamentary deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, who attracted the president's ire last year by attacking Akaev for trying to force through the Chinese border agreement without the legislature's assent.

At the 7 May session, however, Akaev assured the parliament that the 1999 border treaty, according to which Kyrgyzstan receives 70 percent of the disputed territory, offers the best deal that it could hope for from Beijing, Kabar said. But the government only gave the treaty to deputies to review on 2 May, after refusing requests last year to see the text, RFE/RL reported. China would get about 95,000 hectares of land -- but Kyrgyz parliamentary commissions visiting the border regions have contended that the land is better quality than what Kyrgyzstan would receive. The issue has become politicized, regarded by oppositionists as an example of Akaev's authoritarian ways and disrespect for parliamentary process. About 200 demonstrators picketed government headquarters in the capital for three hours in 7 May to protest against ceding land to China, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Another 6,500 people gathered in Kerben in Aksy Raion to demonstrate against territorial concessions, simultaneously demanding that Akaev and his government resign en masse, and that criminal charges against Beknazarov be dropped. If their demands were not met, picketers threatened not to send their children to school or to do military service, and to stop paying taxes and electricity bills. On the same day, Akaev warned officials not to leak information on Sino-Kyrgyz border issues to opposition deputies in the parliament (see "RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 7 May 2002).

Three committees of the Legislative Assembly (parliament's lower house) began considering the border treaty in 8 May discussions but were suspended until 13 May following complaints by some members that the maps provided by the government were inadequate. Nonetheless, on the same day Legislative Assembly Speaker Abdygany Erkebaev announced that the house would debate and ratify the treaty on 10 May. Also on 8 May, the parliamentary press service announced that People's Assembly (the upper house) would consider the agreement on 14 May, and ratify it after the lower house did (see "RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 8 May 2002).

NEW LOANS FOR CENTRAL ASIA. An International Monetary Fund (IMF) expert delegation to Kyrgyzstan, led by Tapio Saavolainen, wrapped up two week of discussions on 2 May and departed Bishkek after signing a new memorandum on economic cooperation and promising to release the second tranche of a $93 million loan approved last year to fight poverty, Reuters and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The first, $15 million installment of the IMF poverty-reduction loan was paid in December. Over half of Kyrgyzstan's population lived below the poverty line in 2001 according to last year's United Nations Development Program Country Report, while Kabar news agency said on 2 May that unemployment in Kyrgyzstan reached 8 percent in the first quarter of 2002. During the same period, national industrial output fell by 11.9 percent, a circumstance that Saavolainen told President Akaev was "alarming" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2002). However, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 1 May that the presidential press service merely said that Saavolainen praised economic developments in the country. Meanwhile an AP story on 6 May emphasized the importance of tiny loans to small businesses as the lifeline for many impoverished Kyrgyz, rather than big loans by major banks, and highlighted the positive experience of one micro-credit agency launched in the country by USAID that had lent $43 million to over 20,000 clients in the last seven years.

The IMF loan agreement to Kyrgyzstan comes in the context of renewed interest by multinational lending institutions' in supporting and rewarding Central Asia for its participation in the international counterterrorism operation. By the same token, the Russian Duma is threatening to use economic levers to punish Kyrgyzstan for hosting Western troops, by refusing to ratify a July 2001 agreement to reschedule Bishkek's $133 million debt to Moscow and calling in the debt instead, IWPR reported on 19 April. 7. The rescheduling issue is on the agenda of the session of the Kyrgyz People's Assembly that began on 7 May, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported.

Also, on 3 May the Asian Development Bank approved a $38 million loan to Uzbekistan to help finance improvements to drinking-water supplies and sanitation to some 700,000 people in Khorezm Oblast and Karakalpakistan, dpa and IRIN reported. Both regions were badly affected by drought in 2000 and 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2002). On the same day the European Commission announced it was giving Tajikistan $9 million to provide food for 55,000 drought victims, including 15,000 children suffering from severe malnutrition, IRIN reported.