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Turkmen Report: May 13, 2002

13 May 2002
Turkmenistan Demands U.S. Extradite Former Minister

12 May 2002

Turkmenistan has demanded that the United States extradite former foreign minister Boris Shikhmuradov, who has been charged in Turkmenistan with illegal arms dealing and embezzlement, RFE/RL reported on 12 May. Shikhmuradov, who is now a leading pro-democracy activist and opponent of President Saparmurat Niyazov's rule, has dismissed the charges against him as politically motivated.

A statement from the Turkmen Foreign Ministry, quoted by the ITAR-TASS news agency, says the U.S. ambassador to Ashgabat, Laura Kennedy, has twice been summoned to the Foreign Ministry to hear demands that the United States hand over Shikhmuradov.

The statement said the Turkmen government has a "total lack of understanding" of why the U.S. government has allowed Shikhmuradov to stay freely on U.S. territory. The Foreign Ministry statement said Turkmenistan and the United States have been developing ties in various areas, including in the fight against international terrorism. (RFE/RL, ITAR-TASS, AFP)

Karzai To Discuss Pipeline Plan With Turkmenistan, Pakistan

12 May 2002

Afghan interim chief Hamid Karzai said on 12 May that later this month he will meet with the leaders of Pakistan and Turkmenistan in Islamabad to discuss plans for a proposed natural-gas pipeline, RFE/RL reported.

The proposed route has yet to be agreed upon by the three countries that would be involved. The plans call for it to carry Turkmen gas exports from the east of that country through western Afghanistan and on to Pakistan.

Karzai and Turkmen President Niyazov met earlier this month to discuss the project, which has an estimated price tag of $2 billion.

Mohammad Alim Razim, Afghanistan's interim minister for mines and industries, told Reuters on 12 May that the U.S. oil firm UNOCAL Corp is the "lead" company among those attempting to win a contract to build the 850-kilometer pipeline.

The Asian Development Bank is expected to help finance the project. (RFE/RL, RTR, AFP)

Central Asia In Danger Of AIDS Surge

9 May 2002

The majority of the population in the Central Asian countries are in danger of being stricken by AIDS, Uzbek radio reported on 9 May.

Various forms of venereal diseases and AIDS are on the rise in the region. Foreign experts think that the number of AIDS sufferers in Central Asia could be at least 10 times more than the officially registered figures. The growth in the number of venereal diseases and the spread of prostitution might create the second wave of an epidemic in the region in the near future.

The radio commented: "It looks as if Central Asia, which was a long way from a sexual revolution, has been experiencing the oriental form of this revolution of late. The daily growth in various venereal diseases and AIDS among the region's population proves it. According to official statistics, Kazakhstan is in first place at present. There are 2,256 AIDS sufferers officially registered in the country. This figure in Uzbekistan is 779, in Kyrgyzstan 208, in Tajikistan 45, and in Turkmenistan 4 people. Of course, these are official reports. Both experts and officials recognize that the real number could be several times more than this. International experts think that the number of AIDS sufferers in Central Asia could be at least 10 times more than the officially registered figures." (Uzbek Radio)

Turkmenistan Marks Two National Holidays

8 May 2002

On 8 May Turkmenistan marks Remembrance Day for those who perished in World War II, ITAR-TASS and reported. This precedes Victory Day, which is held on 9 May and is a national holiday in Turkmenistan.

Remembrance Day was introduced by special decree of President Niyazov in 2000. At the same time, all Turkmen soldiers who perished during the war were pronounced national heroes.

By tradition, many Turkmens have mourning dinners on this day for those who remained on the battlefields. Niyazov had such a dinner in his native village of Kipchak not far from Ashgabat and invited everybody to join.

A memorial complex in honor of the Turkmen heroes of World War II is planned to be constructed in Kipchak. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, ITAR-TASS,

Turkmen Officials Charged With Numerous Crimes

7 May 2002

Turkmen Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atadjanova announced criminal charges against the country's former security chief, defense minister, and 20 other security officials, RFE/RL reported on 7 May. The charges include murder, torture, drug smuggling, and corruption.

The announcement follows a two-month investigation into wrongdoing at the National Security Committee (KNB, former KGB).

Mukhammed Nazarov, the former head of the KNB, is charged with 11 alleged crimes, including murder, procuring prostitutes, bribe taking, and fraud. Former Defense Minister Kurbandurdy Begendjev is charged with four counts of corruption. Both were fired in March.

Niyazov has fired numerous ministers and top officials in recent weeks as part of an anticorruption campaign. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, AP)

Turkmen President Sacks Deputy Prime Minister

7 May 2002

Saparmurat Niyazov has dismissed one of his deputy prime ministers, AFP reported on 7 May. A government spokesman said on 6 May that Niyazov dismissed one of his deputy prime ministers Seitbai Gandymov, who also was removed from his position as central bank chairman.

Niyazov accused Gandymov of "serious shortcomings in his work." Niyazov appointed Economy and Finance Minister Enebay Ataeva as deputy prime minister to replace Gandymov. No new central bank chairman has yet been appointed. Niyazov fired a host of ministers and top officials last month. (AFP)

U.S. Advisory Panel Urges Sanctions Against Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia

7 May 2002

A U.S. advisory panel is urging the U.S. government to designate Turkmenistan and Saudi Arabia as gross violators of religious freedoms and impose sanctions against them, RFE/RL reported on 7 May citing AFP.

The recommendations are contained in an annual report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which advises the government on a wide range of international and humanitarian policy issues.

The report says religious freedoms in Turkmenistan are "very poor and deteriorating." It said Saudi Arabia's monarchy "vigorously" prohibits all forms of public religious expression not part of the government's interpretation of Islam.

The report says Turkmenistan and Saudi Arabia should be designated "countries of particular concern." If the U.S. government accepts the designations, the two countries would be automatically sanctioned under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. The State Department has agreed with the advisory panel on sanctions against six countries -- including China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Myanmar, and Sudan. (RFE/RL, AFP)

Inter-State Commission Discusses Water Use in Central Asia

7 May 2002

The regular meeting of the Inter-State Water Management Coordination Commission of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan was held in Bukhara, reported on 7 May citing "Pravda Vostoka."

It was attended by heads of water resources authorities of Central Asia and organizations of the coordination commission, as well as honorary members of the commission.

The meeting participants discussed the results of water use between growing seasons, considered water scoop limits, and the work of interstate cascade water reservoirs in the 2002 growing season.

Also, the meeting considered the realization of decisions and recommendations adopted at the session devoted to the 10th anniversary of the commission and the state of scientific-research activity on the commission program.

In the course of the two-day meeting, the sides analyzed the issues of effective use of resources of the Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers, interstate water reservoirs for the needs of the national economies of Central Asian countries, the improvement of environment, and combating water shortages. ("Pravda Vostoka,"

Belarusian President To Visit Turkmenistan On 15-17 May

7 May 2002

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka will make his first official visit to Turkmenistan on 15-17 May, Turkmen President Niyazov told a meeting of his Cabinet of Ministers, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 May.

He said the Belarusian and Turkmen governments were drafting a long-term agreement on supplies of Belarusian agricultural and road machines to Turkmenistan. "Lukashenka and I will sign it at the end of the visit," Niyazov said. "Our farmers know pretty well the tractors built at the Minsk plant. They are fairly good for our specific soils and climate," he explained.

Turkmenistan will be purchasing about 1,000 tractors annually over a period of 10 years. It placed its first order for Belarusian tractors in 1998 and the Minsk plant delivered 1,000 machines to Turkmen farmers, a spokesman for the country's Trade Ministry said. Over recent years Turkmenistan has purchased some 4,000 tractors from Belarus.

Experts believe that in the future, Turkmen natural gas and cotton, widely used in the Belarusian manufacturing sector, may occupy a prominent place in the balance of bilateral trade. (ITAR-TASS)

Turkmen 17-Year-Olds Now Permitted To Drive

7 May 2002

According to a decree by President Niyazov, citizens of Turkmenistan aged 17 years who successfully pass a driver's license test in the national department of traffic police are allowed to receive a license and be permitted to drive a car within the limits of the country, RIA-Novosti reported on 7 May. (RIA-Novosti)

Turkmenistan To Extract Over 13 Million Tons Of Oil In 2002

6 May 2002

Turkmenistan plans to extract 13.5 million tons of oil and 70.8 billion cubic meters of gas in 2002, President Niyazov said on 6 May as he approved a program of development of the country's oil and gas sector for the current year, ITAR-TASS reported the same day.

According to the document, Turkmenistan plans to increase oil exports to 2.7 million tons and natural gas exports to 56.5 billion cubic meters, including 50 billion to Ukraine and Russia, 6.5 billion to Iran.

Turkmenbashi oil refinery will process 7.7 million tons of crude oil by using new technologies. This will be enough to meet both domestic needs and implement export plans. (ITAR-TASS)

Turkmen Opposition Website Destroyed

3 May 2002

Hackers destroyed the website belonging to former Turkmen Foreign Minister Avdy Kuliev on 2 May, reported the following day. Kuliev is inclined to attribute the attack to the Turkmen authorities, which had made the site inaccessible to Turkmentelecom subscribers in February 2002. Turkmentelecom is the only authorized Internet provider in Turkmenistan. (

Turkmen Opposition Leader On U.S. Tour Continues Criticism Of His Government

7 May 2002

By Michael Lelyveld

Turkmenistan's former foreign minister kept up his attacks on President Saparmurat Niyazov on 3 May, accusing him of spreading false information about the country's gas exports and the economy.

Speaking at Harvard University, dissident Boris Shikhmuradov criticized his former patron for using statistics that have met with skepticism among Western analysts. "Now, he speaks his mind, whatever he feels like saying about so-called economic accomplishments of Turkmenistan. There's no way to check."

Such charges have been common during Shikhmuradov's U.S. tour in the past week, as Niyazov's one-time trusted aide has tried to rally opposition to his regime under the recently formed People's Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan.

During appearances here and in Washington, the exiled diplomat who served as foreign minister from 1995 to 2000 has derided the leader known as Turkmenbashi, or head of the Turkmen, in far-from-diplomatic terms.

On 29 April at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, Shikhmuradov accused Niyazov of "lying" about economic conditions in Turkmenistan and "embezzling from the government." At Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, he said that Niyazov's "clowning had resulted not only in a loss of prestige but also in a loss of economic power and complete destruction of the economy of the country."

Although Shikhmuradov speaks English fluently, he spoke largely in Russian through an interpreter, interrupting to correct or add to the translation at several points.

Shikhmuradov broke openly with Niyazov and left his last post as ambassador to China last October. In November, the government issued an arrest warrant, charging him with stealing $25.2 million in state property. Shikhmuradov has denied the allegations.

But Shikhmuradov has drawn audiences not to hear whether he has any new insults to hurl at Niyazov but, in part, to find out whether he has new information about one of the most closed countries in the world. Although Turkmenistan's human rights problems have been widely reported, little can be verified about the economic condition of the nation, which has one of the world's largest reserves of natural gas.

The Niyazov government has claimed the strongest economic growth rate in the CIS over the past three years, although Turkmenistan refuses to provide data to the CIS Statistics Committee. According to the government, the country's gross domestic product soared 20.5 percent last year, after growing 17.6 percent in 2000 and 18.5 percent in 1999.

But in its most recent edition of the World Economic Outlook, the International Monetary Fund reported no data on Turkmenistan since 1998.

Shikhmuradov offered no growth estimates of his own. But he derided a claim made by Niyazov in February that per capita GDP had reached $3,000, saying, "We actually believe in our democratic center that the actual per capita income is from $70 to $100 per year."

He denied Niyazov's assertion that the average life span had risen from 60 to 66 years under his rule, saying the real figure is only 52. Although Niyazov announced record harvests of cotton and grain last year, Shikhmuradov said the government had sent officials to procure those commodities from Moscow and Kyiv because the harvests were only 40 percent of the declared amounts.

Likewise, Shikhmuradov gave much higher figures for Turkmenistan's foreign debt. Last May, Niyazov said the country owed $1.6 billion, after denying some years earlier that it had any debt at all. Shikhmuradov said the debt stands at $5.2 billion. If true, the burden would be crushing for a country that has no support from international finance institutions.

Shikhmuradov said his estimates are backed by economists in the People's Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan. The group includes Khudaiberdy Orazov, a former deputy prime minister in charge of finance and central bank chief, who joined the opposition in February.

Shikhmuradov's most debatable charge may concern Turkmenistan's gas exports to Ukraine, which have come to represent the country's economic mainstay. Most recently, Niyazov's government stated that Turkmenistan will supply Ukraine with 40 billion cubic meters of gas this year.

But Shikhmuradov said: "In fact, this is not happening. The gas is not going to Ukraine. Even if it did, Ukraine would not be able to pay for it with guaranteed payment for this gas. And meanwhile, there is no gas going to Ukraine, no money coming back."

There has been little evidence to support the allegation that Turkmen gas has stopped flowing to Ukraine. Kyiv has not complained of any shortage of fuel. But during President Leonid Kuchma's visit to Ashgabat last week, reports hinted that Ukraine has not kept its payments current, as promised.

According to an ITAR-TASS report, Niyazov and Kuchma instructed an intergovernmental commission "to resolve problems over payments...for gas supplied this year." The statement seems to support at least a part of Shikhmuradov's charge.

Ukraine reportedly owes Turkmenistan more than $281 million for gas received from 1993 to 1994. Kyiv is obliged to pay for only half of the current deliveries in cash.

So far, there have been no reports that Niyazov has ordered a suspension of the country's crucial exports to Ukraine. But if Shikhmuradov is right and Ukraine has been delaying payments, Turkmenistan's troubles may be even worse than previously thought. (RFE/RL)

Turkmen Officials Charged With Corruption, Smuggling, Murder

7 May 2002

By Antoine Blua

Turkmenistan's former security chief, once described as the second-most-powerful man in the country, has been charged -- along with a former defense minister and 20 other security officials -- with various crimes, including murder, torture, drug smuggling, and large-scale corruption.

After a two-month investigation into alleged wrongdoing at Turkmenistan's National Security Committee (KNB) the Prosecutor-General's Office yesterday announced the charges at a closed meeting with President Saparmurat Niyazov.

The cases, which involve more than 80 alleged crimes, will be sent directly to the country's Supreme Court, Niyazov said in footage shown on national television stations today. "Even though I have a soft heart, I do not plan to amnesty them," he said.

According to Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atadjanova, the former chairman of the KNB, Mukhammed Nazarov, is charged with 11 crimes, including murder, procuring prostitutes, bribe-taking, and fraud.

"[Nazarov's crimes] have been completely proven. According to Turkmenistan's criminal code, Nazarov should be charged on these accusations, and should be interrogated. His crimes are ready to be brought to court."

Nazarov's subordinates are accused of torturing suspects with electric shocks, making unsanctioned arrests and searches, embezzlement, and other crimes.

Niyazov, in his televised comments, also mentioned a possible reorganization of the KNB, saying Poran Berdyev -- who replaced Nazarov as the head of the KNB in March -- is in charge of the project. "Poran Berdyev should suggest a new composition for the Security Committee. There are 5,000 people working there. In our effort to strengthen it, we have increased their number. But now 700 to 800 people will be sent wherever they are needed, the Defense Ministry or the Interior Ministry."

Defense Minister Kurbandurdy Begendjev is also facing charges on four counts of corruption. He and Nazarov were fired in March. Niyazov also reshuffled many military, border guard, and regional officials.

Niyazov has purged numerous top officials in recent weeks as part of an official anti-corruption campaign in what is viewed as a bid to prevent others from gaining a power base in the republic.

In the latest of a series of sackings of top officials, a government spokesman said late yesterday that Niyazov also dismissed Deputy Prime Minister and central bank chief Seitbai Gandymov. Niyazov accused Gandymov of "serious shortcomings in his work," abuse of office and immodesty, the spokesman added.

The Turkmen president appointed Economy and Finance Minister Enebay Ataeva as deputy prime minister to replace Gandymov. No new central bank chairman has yet been appointed.

But the fact that Niyazov is focusing primarily on cleaning out the KNB -- seen as a crucial pillar of support for his regime -- is raising speculation among analysts about his real motives.

Some of Niyazov's comments indicate he may be seeking scapegoats for the stagnation of the country's social and economic development. At a March cabinet meeting, Niyazov said the KNB will no longer be allowed to interfere in the lives of citizens or in the activities of private companies.

"I gave orders to you to defend order, freedom and liberty of the people, to restore law and order. You, however, have raised criminal charges against wealthy business leaders, firms and companies, which is not your job. You are harassing the people involved in private business. Many of your people collect money from them."

There is considerable need in Turkmenistan for foreign investment to help develop the country's gas industry. Niyazov, to a large degree, has staked his reputation on seeing that industry grow.

Some analysts say Niyazov's decision to remove and charge KNB officials is meant to send a warning to the repressive structure that it doesn't have enough authority to undermine him.

Others believe Niyazov turned a blind eye to KNB misdeeds as long as he felt they were able to control the country's political opposition. But a number of recent defections by high-profile officials has been a source of great concern for the Turkmen president. Some analysts believe the KNB sacking may be a form of punishment for allowing the opposition to flout his authority so openly. (RFE/RL)