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Turkmen Report: March 24, 2003

24 March 2003
OSCE To Ask UN To Condemn Turkmen Government
21 March 2003

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said it intends to recommend to the UN to condemn the rule of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, AFP reported on 21 March.

The OSCE released a 106-page report by its rapporteur Emmanuel Decaux in Moscow on 21 March. Decaux's report said Niyazov is committing "mind-boggling" rights abuses in Turkmenistan. The report said there is a huge gap between the law as it is presented and the reality marked by terror and fear.

The report makes many references to the recent wave of arrests that followed the reported November assassination attempt on Niyazov, for which the government said the opposition was responsible. The OSCE report has been sent to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and officials at the OSCE said they plan to lobby the UN to formally condemn Niyazov's rule. (AFP)

Turkmen President Rewards Journalists, Artists For Promoting His Book
19 March 2003

Saparmurat Niyazov on 19 March handed out $500,000 in rewards to journalists, artists, singers, and writers for promoting his book "Rukhnama," which Niyazov says is a spiritual guide for the Turkmen people, AP reported the same day.

The employees at the National Institute of Manuscripts were given $100,000 in rewards for their work in promoting the book. The editors of newspapers also received rewards.

Some Turkmen government officials have called "Rukhnama" a second Koran and said it belongs on the shelf next to the Koran and the Bible. Niyazov spent months compiling the book after thousands of citizens sent their thoughts to Niyazov, who claims now the book was solely his creation. Analysts have noted that the book changes styles and photocopies of letters appear to be written by different authors, raising questions about how much of the book Niyazov himself actually wrote. (AP)

Turkmenistan Sends Convicts Into Internal Desert Exile
19 March 2003

Turkmenistan's prosecutor-general said on 19 March that 34 former government officials convicted of crimes against the state are serving their sentences in remote desert penal colonies, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported.

Kurbanbibi Atajanova said the 34 former officials were sent to live in rural areas to "atone for their guilt through honest and unselfish labor." Among the 34 are former Deputy Prime Minister Khudaikuli Khallykov, Energy Minister Saparmurat Nuriev, two of Nuriev's deputy ministers, and a former defense minister.

Atajanova said the new penal colonies are in the sparsely populated areas of Bereket and Koitendag. (ITAR-TASS, AFP)

Press Freedom Review Criticizes Central Asia
19 March 2003

The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) says that the international war on terror enabled suppression of freedom of the press around the world last year, RFE/RL reported on 19 March.

In its "World Press Freedom Review 2002," published on 19 March, the IPI says that many countries -- including "every country in Europe" -- have introduced antiterrorism laws. Many of these laws, the review says, inhibit the legitimate work of journalists.

The review mentions in particular Russia, where eight journalists were killed last year and a pending draft law would enact new regulatory restrictions on news media.

The IPI's review of 2002 also lists Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as violators of press freedoms. It says that the Central Asian countries secured U.S. favor as antiterrorism allies and now enjoy new impunity from criticism as they suppress the media. (RFE/RL)

Turkmenistan, Russia To Sign Gas Deal
19 March 2003

Turkmenistan and Russia in April will sign an agreement on the export of Turkmen gas to Russia, Deputy Prime Minister Yelly Gurbanmuradov said on 19 March, ITAR-TASS reported the same day.

He led the Turkmen delegation at negotiations with Russian Deputy Energy Minister Gennadii Ustyuzhanin and deputy chief of the Gazprom administration board, Yurii Komarov.

Turkmen gas supplies to Russia will begin next year to last till 2025, Gurbanmuradov said. Alongside the gas-export terms the agreement will put on record Russian companies' participation in the development of hydrocarbon reserves in the Caspian on production-sharing terms and the implementation of joint investment projects. The Turkmen official said future agreement would give a powerful boost to bilateral cooperation.

Russian gas giant Gazprom last imported Turkmen gas in 2000, but imports were then halted for two years in disputes over prices. Turkmenistan is currently selling gas to Ukraine, the international Itera group, and Iran. (ITAR-TASS)

Some Central Asian Nations Fear Destabilization Because Of Iraq War
21 March 2003

By Farangis Najibullah

Kyrgyz authorities say the Gansi Air Base of the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition will not be used to launch attacks on Iraq. Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov told journalists on 20 March that the base, which is located at Manas International Airport, 25 kilometers from the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, can only be used for the antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan.

Kyrgyzstan, along with neighboring Uzbekistan, is hosting troops from the international antiterrorism coalition. But the two neighbors, among America's closest allies in the antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan, have completely different stances on the war in Iraq.

While Kyrgyzstan has been vocal in opposing military action in Iraq, Uzbek leaders strongly support the U.S.-led war against the Iraqi regime. Uzbekistan hosts U.S. forces at its Khanabad Air Base. It is the only Central Asian republic on the list of countries that support Iraqi disarmament by military means. Uzbek officials say that while they have no plans to send troops to Iraq they would like to take part in rebuilding postwar Iraq.

Some Central Asian officials say the war in Iraq will lead to the destabilization of the Middle East and may also have consequences for Central Asia. In connection with the war, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are stepping up security. Additional security measures are being taken in public spaces, around embassies, and military facilities.

News agencies quote Elizabeth Ortiz, a spokeswoman at the Gansi base in Kyrgyzstan, as saying security also has been stepped up at the air base.

Kyrgyz law enforcement officials say they fear a possible rise in anti-American sentiment in the country that could led to terrorist attacks. Rebels from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan have launched attacks against Kyrgyzstan from their bases in Afghanistan since 1999.

However, local experts say large-scale anti-Americanism has never been an issue in Central Asia, and it is even less likely that such sentiment would take people to the streets for demonstrations, let alone destabilize the region. Even at the height of antiwar protests all over the world during the past weeks, there were almost no demonstrations in Central Asia to denounce a possible military attack against Iraq.

Nasrulloh Rasulzoda, a Tashkent-based expert, told RFE/RL that U.S. troops should avoid damage to holy sites in Iraq to prevent anger among Muslim countries. "A war against a certain regime could be more or less understood, as long as the American troops do not destroy holy cities and cites. This is a very sensitive issue for Muslims," Rasulzoda said.

Unlike Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan has no fears of terrorist or extremist groups, but Kazakhs have their own reason to worry about the outcome of the war in Iraq. Kazakhstan has vast oil resources and has been attracting significant foreign investment since its independence in 1991. Some Kazakhs are concerned that investors could turn their attention to Iraq's oil resources, once the current regime in Baghdad is overthrown.

These concerns are not baseless. Western companies find it difficult to transport Kazakh oil to the West. The country is located far from Western consumers, and there is no efficient pipeline route to transport oil from Kazakh sites.

Omirbek Baigeldy, the vice chairman of the Kazakh Senate, denounced the American-led war in Iraq. "No country, including even powerful America, has any right to launch a war," he said. "The world will never be the same again after this war. I am sure there will be lots of changes in the world order," Baigeldy said.

The Kazakh Foreign Ministry warned its citizens against traveling to Turkey and the Middle East. Kazakh Airlines has suspended flights to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

As usual Turkmenistan, another Central Asian country with huge natural resources, has remained silent on the Iraqi crisis. The isolated government of President Saparmurat Niyazov prefers not to comment on world affairs. However, news agencies quote an unnamed Turkmen official who says the war will have a negative impact on the regional economy.

Meanwhile, the Tajik government -- America's other ally in the antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan -- issued a short and cautious statement regarding the war in Iraq. Tajik officials expressed hope that civilian casualties in Iraq will be minimal.

Mufti Amonulloh Ne'matzoda, the spiritual leader of Tajik Muslims, said he is concerned that Islamic monuments in Iraq will be destroyed during bombardments.

Shodi Shabdolov, the leader of the Tajik Communist Party, told RFE/RL that the U.S.-led military attack on Iraq reminds him of the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan in 1979, which led to the destabilization of the region. "The continuation of the war in Iraq will destabilize the situation in Central Asia, Afghanistan, and the other countries around Afghanistan," Shabdolov said.

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov addressed security issues in his annual Nawruz message to the Tajik nation. However, the war in Iraq was not specifically mentioned. (RFE/RL)