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Turkmen Report: October 21, 2002

21 October 2002
Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan Initial Pipeline Agreement

19 October 2002

Ministers from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have initialed a framework agreement on the construction of a pipeline to carry Turkmen natural gas to the Arabian Sea, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 19 October. The framework was initialed on 18 October in Ashgabat.

A spokesman for Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov said the document will be submitted for signature to the national leaders of the three countries at a meeting in Ashgabat on 26-27 October.

The proposed 1,460-kilometer pipeline would carry gas from Turkmenistan's Dauletabad-Donmez fields, across landlocked Afghanistan, to Pakistan's Arabian Sea coast for export to Asian markets. Estimates say it could transport up to 30 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas each year.

However, the project still has no financing. Estimates say the project could cost $2 billion. (AP, ITAR-TASS, Interfax)

UN Urges Central Asian States To Jointly Fight Drug Traffic From Afghanistan

18 October 2002

The UN has drawn up a program to combat the spread of drugs in Central Asian countries, Interfax reported on 18 October. The program is chiefly aimed at cracking down on the distribution of drugs from their source -- Afghanistan, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the Kazakh parliament on 18 October.

In 2002, the production of illicit drugs in Afghanistan has grown again, which has entailed an increase in drug trafficking as well, he said. The world community should work more closely with the Afghan government, the regions, and directly with farmers in that country to offer them an alternative to drug production and provide them with other means for their subsistence, Annan said.

The UN, together with Central Asian governments, must deal with the stream of drugs from the source and terminate their production in Afghanistan, Annan said.

The UN secretary-general said he had discussed the drug-trafficking problem with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev on 17 October. The UN is prepared to join its efforts with the government of Kazakhstan and other countries of the region in fighting drug trafficking, he said. Annan pointed out that, as a rule, countries not producing drugs themselves, but through which drug trafficking routes pass, eventually become drug consumers. (Interfax)

Claims Of Niyazov's Membership In New York Academy Of Sciences Groundless
17 October 2002

The New York Academy of Sciences in a statement issued on 17 October dismissed a report by the Turkmen Press news agency saying that the Turkmen president has been "elected" to membership in the academy and that his membership is based on "outstanding merit" as inaccurate.

On 17 October, the Turkmen Press news agency said that Niyazov received a message from Torsten Wissel, the chairman of the board of the New York Academy of Sciences, confirming Niyazov's election as a full member of the academy.

Moreover, according to the Turkmen Press, Niyazov received a proper diploma and congratulations from the academy, whose decision was allegedly prompted by Niyazov's "outstanding merit in political, state, and public activities." (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Niyazov Says Oil And Gas Industry To Remain In State Hands

16 October 2002

President Niyazov said on 16 October that the country's oil and gas sector will not be privatized for at least another 10 to 15 years, AFP and ITAR-TASS reported.

Speaking at an international conference devoted to Turkmenistan's history and heritage in the capital Ashgabat, Niyazov said the oil and gas industry were "basic" to the country's economy and should remain in state hands.

Niyazov said other CIS countries, which followed the advice of foreign economists and privatized key domestic industries, were now living to regret it.

Niyazov said Turkmenistan's aviation and rail sectors would also not be privatized in the near future. (AFP, ITAR-TASS)

Niyazov Tightens Control Over Foreign-Currency Reserves

16 October 2002

President Niyazov issued a decree on 16 October intended to prevent a repeat of last month's theft of some $41.5 million from the Turkmen Central Bank's hard-currency accounts, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported.

In the future, all hard-currency transactions in connection with foreign-trade contracts must be signed by Niyazov himself, the chairman of the bank's board, and the head of the State Development Fund.

The decree also instructs Turkmen commercial banks to close immediately all correspondent accounts in foreign banks and to make foreign payments through the correspondent network of the Central Bank and the State Bank for External Transactions. (Interfax, ITAR-TASS)

Oil Production On Turkmenistan's Caspian Sea Shelf Keeps Growing

16 October 2002

Oil production on Turkmenistan's sea shelf in the Caspian has been increasing. A new well has gone into operation at the Jeytun field inside the contract area being developed by Dragon Oil, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 October.

This Anglo-Arab company has produced oil in Turkmenistan on production-sharing terms since 2000. The well's flow rate is 3,956 barrels (540 metric tons) a day.

"This is the fourth well drilled under the oil field's development program," the chairman of the Dragon Oil board of directors, Hussein Sultan, said. He is certain that the daily output there will grow to 15,000 barrels (2,050 tons). In January-September 2002 production totaled 1,700 tons. "We are very glad we have reduced drilling costs and overall costs in general, while production has been up," Sultan said.

Another company that has developed the Turkmen shelf in the Caspian since 1996, Petronas, of Malaysia, has drilled several exploration wells.

Independent analysts estimate hydrocarbon reserves in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian at 16.5 billion tons.

Turkmenistan is currently holding offshore-oil-development negotiations with the Netherlands' Maersk, Germany's Wintershall, Russia's Zarubezhneft and Rosneft, and Ukraine's Naftohaz. (ITAR-TASS)

Border Issues: An 80-Year-Old Headache For Central Asia

18 October 2002

By Zamira Eshanova

At the official level, Central Asia's negotiations on state borders appear to deadlocked. But reports on fresh border clashes and casualty counts make the news nearly every week.

The governments of Central Asia have been conducting talks on border demarcation for nearly 12 years. But to date, only Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have managed to strike a compromise -- in an agreement last month finalizing the demarcation of their 2,440-kilometer common border. None of the other border negotiations in the region appear even close to being resolved.

Some border concerns are new. Uzbekistan was the first to close its borders and introduce a visa regime following 1999 explosions in its capital city and attempted incursions in 1999 and 2000 by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU. But part of the problem is rooted firmly in the past. Central Asia's borders are delineated according to a 1924 plan by Josef Stalin. The result -- according to RFE/RL regional experts attending a roundtable discussion on the border issue this week -- is a time bomb that could be triggered at any moment should regional tempers flare up.

Andres Ilves, the head of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, says that by failing to peacefully resolve the region's border issues, Central Asian leaders are acting out a scenario drafted by the Bolsheviks almost 80 years ago, when Soviet planners adopted a divide-and-conquer scheme to destabilize the area: "Basically, it's just Stalin's last laugh. I mean, the situation that we see today is exactly what was intended. There is no other reason to have created these borders. Obviously, there are other borders that don't make any sense at all. Look at frontiers in Africa, for example, and other places where things were left -- for the sake of maintaining the peace you leave something in place, and sometimes it doesn't make any sense."

The issue is particularly divisive when it comes to the Ferghana Valley, where Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan have common borders. Amin Tarzi, an RFE/RL regional analyst on Afghanistan, says it is of vital importance to keep border disputes from boiling over in the valley: "The total population [in the Ferghana Valley] is about 10.5 million people. That is one-fifth of the entire population of Central Asia. Half of Kyrgyzstan's population, 27 percent of Uzbekistan's population, and one-third of Tajikistan's population is there. And another important thing is that the average growth rate of the population in the Ferghana Valley is 2 percent annually. When you put all of this together -- forgetting about everything else, just for demographics -- this is a time bomb."

Bessy Brown is a former representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Turkmenistan and an independent expert on Central Asia. Speaking at the RFE/RL roundtable, she said border negotiations would not even matter to most people today were it not for the issue of visas and limited freedom of movement: "It is not a problem between ethnicities. They have been living together for centuries. It is a state problem that has been artificially created. It is very different from the situation in Uzbekistan, say, where it is generated -- justified or not, that's another question -- by fear that the Tajiks are going to let the [IMU] come in and blow up Tashkent, or that the Kyrgyzs can't stop these people from trying to come in and blow up Tashkent. This is an entirely different kind of matter."

Svetlana Gaparova works in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, as an expert with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities. In a telephone interview with RFE/RL, she says that historically, the people of the region have no concept of state borders. As a result, efforts by regional governments to establish and monitor state borders with checkpoints and customs posts has caused an uproar among many residents.

She says ordinary people in the Ferghana Valley and elsewhere in Central Asia cannot comprehend why schools, hospitals, and other institutions traditionally shared by the regions residents are now off-limits to them or to others: "It has worked out that [these border areas] were figuratively dismembered. I saw how the state border would pass through somebody's garden or through a tiny brook. As a result, one brother may live on one side of the border while another brother lives on the other side, and they are citizens of two different states. Their children can't go to visit each other or go to the same school, because now they are residents of Uzbekistan [or Kyrgyzstan]."

Setting up state borders and customs posts is not only a complicated emotional issue -- it is also expensive. For many border-region residents, the prospect of paying for a cross-border visa is daunting. In general, the restriction of movement is making poor economic conditions even worse.

Gaparova describes one example of this: "Now cotton picking has begun and it is harvest time in agriculture. People [in Uzbekistan] want to take their harvest into Kyrgyzstan because the Uzbek sum is much lower than Kyrgyz som, and it's not profitable to sell their products in the territory of Uzbekistan. The artificial closure of the borders caused a sharp rise in the price of agricultural products in southern Kyrgyzstan. Before, Uzbek residents from the border areas brought their products to [Kyrgyzstan]. Now there are barriers on the trade and they have to pay high customs fees."

Discussing how best to solve the ongoing border issue, Central Asia analyst Brown said in order for any resolution of the conflict to be long-lasting, it would have to be based at least in part on popular support -- something the governments of the region have so far failed to consider: "You have to take the will of the people into consideration, as the Kyrgyz experience [with repeated antigovernment demonstrations] this year has shown. The parliament may agree, the government may make agreements with China, [but] the population says, 'Wait a minute, this is our land and that is part of our country.' This, of course, is a great achievement in itself, because it shows how the popular mind accepts that 'This is our country.'"

UN expert Gaparova says the best way to gain public support is to involve representatives from border-area communities in the process of negotiations. She cites as one example the new "Initiative for Peace" project, launched by the International Charity Corps to help resolve border-related tensions among Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and Tajik residents of the Ferghana Valley: "The [founders of Initiative for Peace] decided to try, on the level of local communities, to bring ordinary people living on different sides of the border together, to help them to find a common ground and then start setting channels of rapprochement. I think if the governments would use this method of people's diplomacy -- if they listen to local communities and unofficial leaders, if they try to involve village leaders into the official negotiations -- then the situation might change for the better."

Andres Ilves mentioned that the U.S. and Mexican governments solved mutual border problems by establishing frontier zones with their own distinct set of rules. He says this experience might work in the Ferghana Valley, if the governments of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan declare the region as a frontier zone, granting citizens of three countries free movement within it. (RFE/RL)