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Central Asia Report: September 13, 2001

13 September 2001, Volume 1, Number 8

SOLEMN CONDOLENCES AND SOME EXCITED LANGUAGE FROM CENTRAL ASIAN STATES AFTER U.S. TERRORIST ATTACKS. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's telegram of condolence to President George W. Bush following the 11 September terrorist attacks against the U.S. emphasized that "the whole civilized community should unite and take effective measures to combat international terrorism," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on the day of the tragedy. But other Kazakh official statements used less temperate language and were quicker to imply where blame for the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington lay. On 12 September, First Deputy Chairman of the Kazakh National Security Committee (NSC) Rakhat Aliyev talked of "the possible beginning of a third world war and the dominance of Islamic fundamentalism in the world" even while adding that such talk was premature, the same agency reported. Aliyev noted that Kazakhstan bordered countries that may harbor people involved in the attacks and that Nazarbaev had already ordered him to establish headquarters to coordinate antiterrorist measures.

Meanwhile Serik Abdrakhmanov, a deputy in the Kazakh lower house of parliament, the Majlis, called on Islamic nations to "condemn terrorism so that this will not become the start of a third world war," Kazakhstan Today website reported on 12 September. Nigmatzhan Isingarin, Kazakh committee chairman of the Eurasian Economic Community, which held a meeting in Almaty on 12 September, said that the terrorist acts in America were the start of "a third world war, a war of a new type, a war which is not between states but is difficult to stop and which no state is able to cope with," according to Kazakhstan Today. In comments drawing a connection between Islam and terrorism, he noted that globalization was aggravating the divide between the haves and the have-nots. and that "a religious split may occur in the world in addition to economic confrontation."

The Ministry of Defense has put Kazakhstan's air-defense services on combat alert. The Interior Minister has tightened security at the U.S. and other foreign embassies, at buildings housing American companies, and at major state installations, Interfax-Kazakhstan said.

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev said in his telegram of condolence that, "This tragic event in [the] U.S.A. demonstrates once again that terrorism has no national boundaries." He noted that the Kyrgyz people also have suffered international terrorist attacks in the last three years, Kabar news agency reported on 12 September. Akaev was referring to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which has staged incursions into southern Kyrgyzstan from Tajik territory for the past three summers. Also on 12 September, senior Kyrgyz security officials told a press conference that they had stepped up security at the U.S. embassy, airports, and borders, adding that the measures were both in reaction to the terrorist attacks in America and the especially unstable situation in Afghanistan following an assassination attempt on the leader of the Afghan Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Massoud. The latest reports suggest that Massoud is dead, contradicting earlier denials by Northern Alliance spokesmen.

The presidents of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have also sent telegrams of condolence, their national news services reported without providing details. Kazakh Khabar Television reported on 12 September that Uzbekistan is drawing parallels between events in America and terrorist attacks in the Uzbek capital Tashkent on 16 February 1999, when a half-dozen bombs exploded across the city in an action that the authorities blamed on Islamic militants.

Tajik television has described the attacks on New York and Washington, but news agencies had not reported any official reaction from the Tajik government by mid-day, local time, on 12 September.

KAZHEGELDIN SENTENCED TO 10 YEARS IN PRISON. Akezhan Kazhegeldin, Kazakhstan's prime minister from 1994 to 1997 and more recently President Nursultan Nazarbaev's chief political rival, was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in a minimum-security prison by the Supreme Court in the Kazakh capital Astana on 6 September, RIA Novosti and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The verdict, announced by Judge Betas Beknazarov, followed 11 days of testimony by 75 witnesses between 15 August and 29 August, the day the court heard closing arguments. In a trial that was widely seen as politically motivated, Kazhegeldin, who fled the country in 1999 and has been living in self-imposed exile in Western Europe, was charged with abuse of power, accepting bribes, illegal arms possession, and tax evasion during his tenure as prime minister. He was found innocent of tax evasion, RIA Novosti reported. State prosecutors had demanded a sentence of 12 years.

In addition to the prison term, the verdict stipulates that Kazhegeldin's property be confiscated, including his apartment in Almaty and a villa he owns in Belgium. He is further ordered to pay the state treasury $1 billion tenge ($6.8 million) in compensation for "damage caused by his illegal activities while prime minister of Kazakhstan." He will also be stripped of the "Parasat" medal awarded him by Nazarbaev in 1997.

Kazhegeldin's defense attorney, Aleksandr Tarabrin, had argued that many of the former and current senior officials testifying to Kazhegeldin's illegal dealings were as culpable as his client. Accompanying the guilty verdict against Kazhegeldin, the court sent special letters of warning to some of the prosecution's witnesses.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Kazakhstan circulated a statement after the trial questioning its fairness, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 7 September. The statement said "there are certain doubts" as to whether the court and mass media had observed the presumption the innocence during the proceedings. It quoted the OSCE's Copenhagen Document, to which Kazakhstan is a signatory, asserting that "the elements of justice include the independence of judges and impartial functioning of the state legal system" and the defendant's right to "a fair and open trial." Two days of proceedings in the Kazhegeldin trial were conducted behind closed doors, allegedly because the court heard testimony dealing with state secrets.

The OSCE statement also questioned the justice of a trial in absentia, which it said may violate the principle of the equality of defense and prosecution. But already during the trial, on 27 August, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported that Kazakh Justice Minister Igor Rogov was criticizing observers who doubted the legitimacy of trying Kazhegeldin in absentia. Rogov noted then that "two or three" trials in absentia had already been held in the country, "[but] nobody paid any attention to that."

The opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan (RPPK), founded by Kazhegeldin, also issued a statement on 7 September, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The statement charged that the country's legal system was merely an instrument of the ruling authorities. It called the trial "a political farce" instigated by the government to "deal with" the political opposition but said the RPPK would continue to be politically active in the country.

Commenting on the verdict, Kazhegeldin said in an interview with Russian TV6 on 6 September that he still could envisage circumstances under which he might return to Kazakhstan. "If its parliament, for example, could guarantee my safety and a fair examination of the accusations against me...and this guarantee should be given publicly, I could return then," he said. But presumably he meant sometime after President Nazarbaev has left office, adding, "This regime will not last forever."

Practically speaking, it is unclear how the Supreme Court's verdict against Kazhegeldin will be put into effect in the meantime, beyond seizure of his assets in Kazakhstan. Judge Beknazarov announced the sentence would come into force upon Kazhegeldin's apprehension. Kazakhstan is pressing for extradition treaties with various Western countries, including the United States, but with limited success so far.

KHARRAZI'S VISIT TO CENTRAL ASIA CUT SHORT. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi abruptly terminated his visit to Tajikistan on 7 September and returned to Tehran two days earlier than planned, citing "important matters that demand my presence in Iran," Agence France Presse and Iranian news agency IRNA reported. Kharrazi, heading a delegation of Iranian businessmen, was on the last leg of a three-stop Central Asia tour to Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. He had been scheduled to meet Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov on 8 September and attend the nation's independence celebrations the following day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2001).

Although economic cooperation and strengthening regional security were the leitmotifs of Kharrazi's Central Asia tour, reports indicated that their relative emphasis differed significantly from country to country.

Bilateral trade, cooperation in the energy sector, and increasing Iranian investments in Kyrgyz small and medium-sized businesses were high on the agenda in Kyrgyzstan, Kharrazi's first stop, Interfax reported on 5 September. A forum organized by Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Foreign Trade and Industry and its Chamber of Commerce and Industry brought Kyrgyz and Iranian businessmen together during Kharrazi's two-day stay in the capital Bishkek.

On 6 September in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, Kharrazi's talks with Uzbek Foreign Minister Adbulaziz Komilov stressed joint approaches to combating drug trafficking and the need for new initiatives to settle the civil war in Afghanistan, Interfax reported. Since the international community's present policy of sanctions against the Taliban is not proving effective, the ministers said that member-states of the Six-plus-Two Group (which consists of Afghanistan's six neighbors -- Uzbekistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, and China --plus Russia and the United States) should play a more active role in addressing the Afghan problem.

In remarks broadcast by Uzbek Television on 7 September, Kharrazi and Komilov said their discussions had also focused on the development of transport links through Iran. Both north-south routes that would give landlocked Uzbekistan much-needed access to the sea and east-west transcontinental routes for transit freight to and from Europe were mentioned. That theme was carried over into talks with Uzbek President Islam Karimov on 6 September, who said that Uzbekistan needed access to Iran's rail network and southern ports in order to strengthen trade with South-East Asia, IRNA news agency reported. Karimov further said that the volume of bilateral trade was "not acceptable" and could be increased seven-fold, since the two nation's economic capabilities were complementary. Uzbek-Iranian trade in the first six months of 2001 amounted to $53.98 million, Interfax noted on 7 September.

Kharrazi concluded his visit to Uzbekistan on 7 September by delivering a lecture on Iranian foreign policy at Tashkent's University of World Economy and Diplomacy, reported by IRNA news agency. He had given a similar address at the Kyrgyz-Slavonic University in Bishkek on 5 September. But while predictably identifying religious extremism, drug trafficking, organized crime, and illegal immigration as the most severe threats to regional security, several of his remarks were particularly notable in light of his discussions with Uzbek officials. The "insatiable greed of superpowers" and their overlapping strategic interests in Central Asia were undermining regional security, he said, despite his earlier endorsement of the Six-plus-Two Group. He advertised Iran's value to Central Asia as a north-south transit corridor yet admitted that Iran was "in dire need of investments" to upgrade its transport facilities and infrastructure. He also said that Iranian authorities seized and destroyed about 200 tons of illegal narcotics a year.

Kharrazi had time for a three-and-a-half-hour meeting with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in the Tajik capital Dushanbe before flying home on the evening of 7 September, Agence France Presse reported. The conflict in Afghanistan and the battle against drug trafficking dominated the conversation. Solving the Afghan crisis requires efforts by the country's neighbors, the United States, the United Nations, and the involvement of all the various ethnic and social groups within Afghanistan, Kharrazi said. Reports said that developing bilateral trade was also discussed before Kharrazi was called away on urgent business to Tehran.

As a coda to the foreign minister's trip to Central Asia, Kharrazi held talks in Tehran the following day with Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Yan Wenchang, IRNA reported on 8 September. The two diplomats talked about the impact of globalization on developing nations and reviewed the situations in Afghanistan and Israel. Noting that China is a member of the UN Security Council, Kharrazi praised China's diplomatic efforts to resolve international crises. Two days earlier in Tashkent, Kharrazi had suggested the UN Security Council could use its clout to put pressure on countries that were supporting the Taliban financially or otherwise.

TAJIKISTAN MARKS 10 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE. A 45-minute parade of over 7,000 Tajik servicemen and military academy students, who marched past a tribunal of state officials and foreign guests, formed the centerpiece of Tajikistan's Independence Day celebrations on 9 September in Dushanbe, RIA Novosti and Tajik media sources reported. A Soviet-style civilian parade of waving schoolchildren, workers, parliamentarians, and members of the intelligentsia followed. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov was guest of honor. President Imomali Rakhmonov had officially kicked off three days of festivities on 7 September with a wreath-laying ceremony in Dushanbe's central Dusti Square at the monument to national hero Ismail Samani, the 10th-century founder of the Samanid dynasty, after whom both Tajikistan's national currency and tallest mountain are named.

In remarks following the ceremony, Rakhmonov asserted that the Tajik people were marking the 10th anniversary of independence in an atmosphere of national reconciliation and economic improvement, RIA Novosti said. Rakhmonov called Russia "a guarantor of peace and stability not only in Central Asia but in the whole world" while stressing that Tajikistan had close relations with China and looked to it for opportunities for economic cooperation. Senior Tajik officials have laden Russia with compliments and thanks in the run-up to the independence anniversary. On 5 September, Rakhmonov admitted to the Russian newspaper "Trud" that his country could not cope without the Russian Border Group stationed on the Tajik-Afghan frontier, while the Tajik ambassador in Moscow told the newspaper "Nezavismaya gazeta" on 30 August that Russian troops in Tajikistan were guarantors of foreign and domestic investments in his country.

Tajikistan's economy was the focus of a 90-minute televised address by Rakhmonov on 8 September in which he urged swifter implementation of economic reforms and more development of the nation's industrial sector. He said that market-based reforms were the only way "to free the country from crisis." Tajikistan, the poorest of the ex-Soviet states, is largely agriculture-oriented. On 29 August Tajik authorities announced that the process of privatizing the country's small and medium-sized enterprises had been completed, and invited international bids on several major enterprises such as an ore-dressing plant and a refrigerator factory, according to Iranian radio.

On the morning of 8 September, Tajikistan's 49-year-old minister of culture, Abdurakhim Rakhimov, was assassinated outside his home in Dushanbe by an unidentified gunman who then escaped, Agence France Presse and Interfax reported. Rakhmonov said the killing was "the work of enemies of the Tajik people" intended to destabilize the country. It was the third murder of a senior government official this year, after the assassinations of Interior Minister Habib Sanginov in April and of a presidential adviser on international and political affairs, Karim Yuldoshev, in July.

Further violence marred the independence celebrations when a home-made bomb exploded at 8:30 pm local time on 9 September about 1 kilometer from Dushanbe's stadium, where the president and guests were attending a performance, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. The blast killed an unidentified young man who appears to have been carrying the bomb, which he presumably made himself. A second, similar bomb was discovered under a bridge on Ismail Samani Avenue, one of the city's main thoroughfares, leading authorities to assume an attempted terrorist act had been planned. Some observers speculated that supporters of Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev, who launched an attack into northern Tajikistan from Uzbekistan in 1998, were behind the attempt.

KULOV SUES AKAEV WHILE OPPOSITION PARTIES JOIN FORCES. Feliks Kulov, leader of the Kyrgyz opposition Ar-Namys (Dignity) Party, has filed two lawsuits against President Askar Akaev for libeling him in a recent book (see "RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 10 September 2001). Kulov, once regarded as Akaev's chief political rival, is presently serving a seven-year prison sentence for abuse of office while minister of national security in 1998.

Akaev publicly launched his new book on 24 August, the newspaper "Delo No" reported. Entitled "The Memorable Decade," it discusses developments since Kyrgyzstan gained independence. Back in 1991, Akaev writes in the book, "I found myself liking this forceful general who was a good organizer," referring to Kulov. "I was sympathetic to him for several years, although I detected drawbacks in his character and behavior." Akaev continues that he had Kulov in mind to succeed him politically, but says, "I sincerely regret that my hopes for Kulov have not been fulfilled. His appointments during the past 10 years show how consistently I, as president, was trying to maintain him in the political and public life of the country, but my attempts failed. I think that this forceful man, lacking moral principles, acted in his own personal interests and fell victim to his own ambitions."

Kulov is further demanding a public apology from Akaev for characterizing him as a person who had "disappointed him" and "loved power too much." Ar-Namys party member Urmat Sovetov told RFE/RL's correspondent in Kyrgyzstan on 10 September that Akaev's book was an attempt to put further pressure on his jailed political rival. Last month Kyrgyz authorities confiscated Kulov's property and filed new charges of embezzlement against him while he was governor of Chu Province from 1993 to 1997 and mayor of the capital Bishkek from 1998 to 1999. If convicted, he could face an additional 15 years in prison. Opposition politicians have maintained that these and earlier charges brought against Kulov were politically motivated.

While Kulov attempts to fight Akaev from prison, over 80 representatives of 10 opposition parties held their first joint conference, entitled "Kyrgyzstan: 10 Years on the Path of Democracy," in Bishkek on 8 September, Interfax and Kabar news agencies reported. A statement by delegates said that "there is no independent court system, genuine-multiparty system or genuine freedom of the press" in Kyrgyzstan and that economic reforms had mostly failed. The conference created an Independent Commission on Human Rights, which nominated 10 delegates to send to an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe meeting in Vienna on 19 September that Akaev is expected to attend. The former leader of the Erkindik (Freedom) Party, Topchubek Tuganaliev, was appointed chairman of the new commission. Turganaliev, who was convicted of plotting to assassinate Akaev in September 2000, was granted presidential clemency and freed from prison last month. He had steadfastly denied the accusations of conspiracy against Akaev, which he said were fabricated to remove him from the political arena.