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Turkmen Report: November 25, 2002

25 November 2002
EBRD Says Corruption Still Hampers Central Asia Economies

24 November 2002

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said the five former Soviet Central Asian economies continue to be hampered by corruption, Russian RTR television reported. In the bank's annual "Transition Report," which was released on 24 November, the EBRD singled out Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan for especially high levels of corruption and a lack of transparency.

On Kazakhstan, the bank said, "The wide-ranging business interests of public officials give rise to conflicts of interests." In Turkmenistan, the bank said a nationwide crackdown on corruption had revealed numerous cases of misuse of office. The EBRD gave Uzbekistan limited praise. The bank said although efforts to make the Uzbek currency, the som, convertible have been incomplete, some progress has been made. The bank is scheduled to hold its annual meeting in the Uzbek capital Tashkent next year. (RTR)

Niyazov Pardons 8,000 Criminals

23 November 2002

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has pardoned 8,000 criminals, including 162 foreigners, AP reported on 23 November, citing Turkmen state television. The report said the president ordered government officials to help the criminals adapt to civilian life and find jobs. The pardon came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Before being released, the criminals were ordered to take oath on the Koran not to violate the law.

Niyazov has been criticized by human rights groups for his authoritarian rule and the violation of human rights. (AP, Turkmen TV)

Turkmenistan To Build Power Line To Afghanistan

23 November 2002

Turkmen power industry workers have started building a power line to the Afghan province of Herat, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 November. President Niyazov has signed a decree appointing the Turkmenenergogurlushyk company to be the general contractor of the project initiated by the Afghan Ministry of Water and Power. The company, which belongs to the Turkmen Ministry of Energy and Industry, will build a 20-kilometer LEP-220 power line from Serkhetabat (formerly Kushka), Turkmenistan, to the Afghan border where a big substation will be built.

The $6.3 million power line is expected to be commissioned in October 2003, the Ministry of Energy and Industry said. Afghanistan will build a 118-kilometer power line from the border to Herat on its own.

Electricity to be supplied to Afghanistan will cost $0.003 per kilowatt/hour. Turkmenistan sells electricity to Tajikistan at the same price. (ITAR-TASS)

NATO To Develop Relations With Transcaucasia, Central Asia

22 November 2002

Central Asia and Transcaucasia will become the next boundary in the enlargement of NATO activities, a high-ranking Western diplomat told the press in Prague following the NATO summit, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 November. Stronger relations with the former Soviet republics situated south of Russia -- Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan -- will become a key NATO priority for the next 10 to 15 years, he said.

All of the countries are taking part in NATO's Partnership for Peace Program, which the alliance will actively develop in the next years, he said. Naturally, these countries' entry into NATO is not being discussed at present because none of them meet any of the main admission criteria. (ITAR-TASS)

Niyazov To Reinforce Payment Discipline

21 November 2002

President Niyazov has decided to reinforce payment discipline in the country and to provide for the timely payment of foreign loans, Interfax reported on 21 November, citing the president's staff. Bearing this in mind, the president signed a resolution to regulate foreign-currency operations at Turkmen banks.

From now on, all of Turkmenistan's banks can hold correspondent, deposit, investment, and other operations in foreign currency outside the country only via correspondent accounts in the National Bank or the State Bank for Foreign Economic Affairs in coordination with the National Bank, the resolution says. The National Bank is instructed to use commercial banks' foreign-currency deposits for meeting international financial commitments and foreign loans channeled to the national agricultural industry in a timely manner. (Interfax)

Turkmenistan To Put $192 Million Into Agriculture In 2003

18 November 2002

A new program for overcoming the current crisis in Turkmenistan's agriculture provides for extending loans to agricultural producers and restructuring their debts, President Niyazov told the cabinet on 18 November, Interfax reported the same day.

Niyazov ordered the allocation of 1 trillion manats ($192.3 million) from the state budget to agriculture. This money will be transferred to an extrabudgetary agricultural fund. Niyazov also ordered the 1 trillion manats to be entered as a spending item of the budget and instructed the economy and finance minister to "control their utilization." (Interfax)

Meeting Over Caspian Sea Status Delayed

18 November 2002

A meeting of working groups of the five Caspian countries over the status of the sea has been put off until early December, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 November, citing Azerbaijan's Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov. Khalafov said that the working groups were to meet on 19-20 November in Azerbaijan's capital Baku.

Partners from the five littoral states -- Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran -- are agreeing a new date, Khalafov said. The meeting's agenda is unaltered. The experts are to discuss the idea of a convention on the status of the Caspian Sea. (ITAR-TASS)

Hundreds Of Prisoners Break Out Of Turkmen Jail

21 November 2002

By Bruce Pannier with Rozinar Khoudaiberdiev

There are several hundred escaped prisoners roaming southwestern Central Asia. Between 800 and 1,000 inmates at Turkmenistan's southern Tejen prison broke loose on 8 November and such information as can be obtained on the matter indicates that only four have been recaptured. That so many are still at large may be surprising but that anyone would want to escape from a Turkmen prison is not.

The jail break occurred when some prisoners got hold of a truck that was in the prison yard and drove the truck through the prison wall at three different points. Prisoners, many of them barefoot, dashed for freedom and having achieved this goal some made their way to nearby villages where they asked residents if they had any old shoes they could part with. Having secured footwear these escapees, along with others who did not stop for shoes, made their way to local railway stations where they headed in different directions.

Since only four prisoners were reported recaptured the plan seems to have worked and many are believed to now be in neighboring countries. There are murderers and thieves among the escapees but, according to today's edition of the Russian newspaper "Nezavisimaya gazeta," political prisoners as well. The Turkmen government sent Interior Ministry special police to the area to help in the hunt but the search is hampered because police are not sure who is at large. Apparently the prisoners burned the prison administration building with all the records before they escaped.

Most prisoners would likely prefer liberty to confinement. In Turkmenistan, though, this is doubly true. There living in jail takes on a whole different meaning and conditions in the Tejen prison illustrate this.

The Tejen prison is meant to hold 800 prisoners, approximately the number that escaped. Reports show that on 8 November, the day of the escape, there were at least three times that many, and by some accounts 10 times the number of prisoners the facility was built to hold.

Chary Annamuradov spent 2 1/2 years in a Turkmen prison. He lives in a European country now after foreign governments pressured the Turkmen authorities into releasing him. He described what inmates could look forward to in a Turkmen correctional facility: "Conditions.... They do not give any clothing, they do not give anything to eat, there's almost nothing to eat."

Gulgeldy Annaniyazov was also in a Turkmen prison near Turkmenbashi City and was released after 3 1/2 years through the intervention of the United States government. He also lives in Europe but though he said prisoners at his facility were given food and there was water available, but what he described did not sound very appetizing. "For 8,000 inmates in the prison there was one water faucet. We had really no food to speak of in our prison. They gave us food but first you had to clean the cockroaches and worms out of it, then you could eat."

Simply being imprisoned in Turkmenistan's deserts, which account for about 90 percent of Turkmenistan's land and where nearly all the prisons are located, would take its toll on a person. Temperatures in the summer can climb to 55 degrees Celsius and according to Annamuradov, it was hotter in special holding areas during the summer months. "In the isolation rooms, 4 by 6 meters, there should be 15 people. That is in a jail, not a hard-labor penal colony. There are usually 40 people [in the isolation room] and [from May to September] temperatures get to 65 degrees Celsius [149 degrees Fahrenheit]."

Provisions for prisoners are allotted on the number of inmates the prison was built to hold, meaning that in the case of the Tejen prison, thousands were surviving on rations intended for 800. Some inmates are more fortunate in that they have relatives who are willing and able to bring food and bribe guards to deliver to their incarcerated kinsmen.

Since Turkmenistan became independent in 1991 no monitoring group has been able to check on conditions in Turkmenistan's prisons. The tales of former prisoners indicate these prisons are "hellholes" in the truest sense of the word. With that in mind it should prove no easy task to capture the escaped prisoners and return them to confinement. (RFE/RL)