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Turkmen Report: July 15, 2001

15 July 2001
Ukraine's Naftogaz Accuses Russia's Itera Of Failing To Deliver Gas From Turkmenistan

13 July 2001

Ukraine's state oil and natural gas company Naftogaz accused Russian gas exporter Itera on 13 July of violating contracts by failing to deliver about half the gas it had promised to supply from Turkmenistan.

Itera has reduced gas deliveries from Turkmenistan by 10 million cubic meters (350 million cubic feet) a day, said Naftogaz spokesman Artur Hubar.

He accused the Russian company of signing contracts with private Ukrainian companies without having the resources to meet both those deals and the deal with Naftogaz. As a result, gas supplies to Naftogaz have been cut by 50 percent since 26 June, causing difficulties in supplying Ukrainian industries, he said. "Itera cannot fulfill the Turkmen contract due to problems in its business activity," Hubar said. "It has no resources for the agreements it signed."

Ukraine receives about 100 million cubic meters (3.5 billion cubic feet) of natural gas a day, half of which is delivered from Turkmenistan, Hubar said.

He also denied media reports that Naftogaz had continued to siphon off Russian gas, saying the theft from pipelines running across Ukraine had stopped completely in June 2000. The issue of gas thefts and Ukraine's debts for Russian natural gas supplies to the country have been irritants in bilateral relations. Ukraine pledged to stop the thefts and last year worked out a debt repayment scheme with Moscow.

Last month, Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin said there had been no gas thefts since 2000, and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma also strongly denied that Ukraine was siphoning away Russian gas.

Nonetheless, Russia is considering construction of an alternative pipeline through Poland. (AP)

Turkmen Central Bank Imposes Limitations

13 July 2001

In accordance with the letter of the Turkmen Central Bank, No. 0262/25-2189, dated 13 June 2001, limits were imposed on customers when they withdrew cash from their accounts if commercial companies credit such funds to those clients. There also were limitations on non-cash wire transfers.

The Turkmen Central Bank released the following regarding the new limitations: 1.

Non-cash transfers to physical accounts (except wages, pension fees, alimony, commission and insurance fees) are to be credited with the following monthly payments, not exceeding the amount of three monthly wages. 2.

Money going to anonymous accounts Poste restante (opened before the implementation of the present letter's limitations), is credited to the accounts as non-cash transfers until its origin is found. 3.

At the creditor's visit the bank has to coordinate with the client an opportunity to renew these funds for fixed deposits valid at the bank. In the case of a client's disagreement with the offered conditions the funds are returned to the creditor in accordance with his account data. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Russia Suspends Catching Of Sturgeon In Northern Sector Of Caspian Sea

12 July 2001

On 20 July, Russia will suspend the commercial catching of sturgeon in the northern sector of the Caspian Sera, the vice chairman of the State Fisheries Committee, Anatolii Makoyedov, told Interfax.

This decision reflects the recommendation of the Permanent Committee of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to impose a temporary moratorium on the catching of sturgeon in the Caspian Sea and on the export of black caviar, given a sharp decrease in the stock of sturgeon.

Makoyedov said that the CITES recommendations have to do with other Caspian states, as well, except for Iran -- where the catching of sturgeon and the production and sale of black caviar is state controlled and the poaching of sturgeon has virtually been eradicated.

Russia has heeded the CITES recommendations and has agreed that poaching has seriously reduced the stock of sturgeon in the Caspian Sea over the past few years.

The Russian Fisheries Committee believes, however, that poaching will end only if all Caspian states jointly protect and reproduce the sturgeon stock. (Interfax)

'Turkmenbashi' Writes Off Slice Of State Enterprise Debts

11 July 2001

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has written off about $1 billion (1.16 billion euros) of debts owed by state enterprises to the budget and to one another.

The arrears being written off included debts owed by state firms, farms and social organizations to the budget and money owed between these enterprises as well as some fines, the economic ministry source said.

Niyazov was earlier reported by Interfax as saying that such a measure would improve the financial condition of firms, which could make payments to the budget and to one another "with a clean sheet."

"Banks were imposing fines on enterprises (for not paying their debts), which were much higher than the initial sum of money owed and some firms had become enslaved with debts," the source said.

"This situation affects the country's whole economy," he added. (AFP, Interfax)

Azerbaijani Deputy Premier Rejects Turkmen Gas Debt Figures

11 July 2001

On 11 July, Azerbaijani TV reported that Turkmenistan was demanding from Azerbaijan immediate payment of millions of dollars for its gas debt. Otherwise, Turkmenistan threatened to take Azerbaijan to court.

Azerbaijani First Deputy Prime Minister Abbas Abbasov had received a letter from his Turkmen counterpart demanding repayment of Azerbaijan's debt to Turkmenistan. The Turkmen side wants money for the gas supplied to Azerbaijan. This sum stood at $81 million until 22 February 1995, when the Azerbaijani-Turkmen interstate agreement was signed. Of this sum, $59.7 million has still not been paid.

Turkmenistan says that although this country repeatedly appealed to Baku, Azerbaijan has done nothing to repay the debt. Taking into consideration that the deadline for repayment of this debt was 1998, official Ashgabat is not going to reschedule it and is demanding immediate repayment. Otherwise, Turkmenistan threatens to file a lawsuit with the Court of Arbitration.

Abbasov had sent a reply to this letter. However, Abbasov said that Azerbaijan's debt to Turkmenistan for natural gas is $18.7 million, not $59.7 million. He said that Baku had already paid $62.3 million of the $81 million debt. Abbasov said that this figure had been determined at the last coordination on 13 August 1999. He said that although Azerbaijan had repeatedly announced its readiness to discuss this issue with both parties' participation, official Ashgabat had not replied to this proposal so far. (Azerbaijani TV, RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

'Great' Aviator Niyazov Given Medal

11 July 2001

The International Aviation Committee awarded Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov with a gold medal and an honorary diploma "For Great Services in Aviation Development."

Currently, Turkmen Airlines have regular flights to Turkey, India, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Iran, Thailand, Great Britain, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine. A new direct flight from Ashgabat to Toronto is scheduled to start in the near future. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, ITAR-TASS)

General Electric Wins Tender To Rebuild Turkmen Power Plant

11 July 2001

The U.S.-based General Electric (GE) company won a tender for the reconstruction of a thermal power station in Bezmein, Turkmenistan, worth up to $43 million.

Niyazov's resolution on the project was published on 11 July in major newspapers. Turkmenistan will repay GE the costs of construction over seven years, with 4 percent interest, it said.

Niyazov also ruled that GE, its subcontractors, and Turkmen ministries involved in the project would not pay any taxes or state duties. A formal contract with General Electric is due to be signed later this month, officials from the energy and industry ministries said. (AP)

Turkmen President Fires Two More Senior Ministers

10 July 2001

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov fired two senior ministers in what has become an almost monthly ritual in this former Soviet republic, official reports said on 10 July.

The authoritarian and president sacked Rovshan Kerkavov, Turkmenistan's deputy prime minister, communications minister, and the rector of the Turkmen State Institute of Transport and Communications "for flaws in his work and failure to perform his functional duties."

In a Turkmenbashi decree, Berdymurat Rejepov, who previously headed the eastern region of the republic (the Lebap region), has been appointed a deputy chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan in charge of transport and communications, and the rector of the Turkmen State Transport and Communications Institute for a six-month probation period. In the event of failure to carry out his official duties he is to be relieved of the posts without offer of another job.

The new head of the Lebap region is Gedai Akhmedov, who previously headed the Serdarabat district of the region.

Niyazov also fired the mostly desert nation's water management minister, Tekebai Altiev.

The latest dismissals bring the total to seven senior ministers fired in the Central Asian nation in as many months.

Some observers speculate that the constant reshuffles prevent any minister from gaining enough popularity to unseat the Turkmen leader or represent any possible challenge to his authority.

Kerkavov, the transport chief, was "not only unable to deal with his duties" in overseeing the railways sector, "but he even added to the trouble," the newspaper "Neitralny Turkmenistan" wrote, although it failed to elaborate.

The railways have come in for sharp media criticism and the sacking comes after the head of Turkmen railways, Khalmurat Berdiev, was killed by one of his own trains in still unexplained circumstances in June.

Niyazov retains an iron grip on all positions of power in the country of 5 million people, which he has ruled for more than a decade. (AFP, RFE/RL Turkmen Service, Interfax, "Neitralny Turkmenistan")

Kazakhstan Cuts Natural Gas Supplies To Ukraine

9 July 2001

Kazakhstan has drastically reduced natural gas shipments through its pipelines from Turkmenistan to Ukraine due to debts accumulated for earlier transit services, a Ukrainian energy official said on 9 July.

Kazakhstan has cut gas shipments by almost a half to about 1.5 billion cubic meters per month, Vadim Kopylov, who heads the state energy company Naftogaz Ukrainy, told the Interfax news agency.

Kazakhstan last month threatened to cut gas transit unless Itera, a Russian operator of Turkmen gas supplies to Ukraine, paid all debts to the Kazakh pipeline firm Intergaz for earlier transit services.

In turn, Itera blamed several Ukrainian power generating companies for running a $56 million debt that prevented the company from paying its debts to Kazakhstan.

Ukraine resumed natural gas purchases in Turkmenistan in 2000, and wanted to completely phase out Russian gas imports over the next five years in favor of Turkmen gas supplies.

Ukraine, which annually produces 18 billion cubic meters of gas, planned to purchase 30 billion from Turkmenistan and 30 billion from Russia in 2001.

Ukraine also plans to boost Turkmen gas purchases to 40 billion in 2002. (AFP)

Ukraine To Pay For Turkmen Gas With Compressor Stations

9 July 2001

Turkmenistan has agreed to sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of natural gas to Ukraine, the Interfax news agency reported on 9 July.

Ukraine is to pay partly in cash and partly in goods. An unnamed source in Turkmenistan's Ministry of Oil Industry and Mineral Resources (MOIMR) said the goods would include two gas compressor stations built in Turkmenistan by a Ukrainian company, Sumy Mashinostroenie.

The compressor stations would be used to pump the gas.

The deal, initially worth $210 million, commits Turkmenistan to deliver 250 million cubic meters of natural gas at $40 per 1,000 cubic meters during the years 2002 and 2003.

Delivery volume would rise to 250 billion cubic meters by the end of 2005. The deal could be worth up to $5 billion over the next four years, the report said. (Interfax, DPA)

Investment Worth $4 Billion In Turkmenistan In 2001

9 July 2001

Some $4 billion worth of capital investment is to be invested in Turkmenistan in 2001, President Saparmurat Niyazov announced on national television.

He said that more than 300 industrial and civil construction projects are to be completed in the republic by the end of October. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Batyr, Stop Drinking!

7 July 2001

Speaking at a session of the Turkmen parliament, the Mejlis, on 7 July, President Saparmurat Niyazov severely criticized the work of the country's Foreign Ministry and dismissed the minister, Batyr Berdyyev, from the position for shortcomings in his work and for drunkenness. Here are some comments by "Turkmenbashi" on that issue:

"The minister...Batyr Berdyyev...started this work only recently. He himself is a good man but does not keep his promises. Every man has a certain ability to perform this or that task. Unfortunately, Batyr has a weakness: he drinks a lot. Within a very short period of time I gave him a personal warning four times: Batyr, stop drinking, that sort of thing is inappropriate for the Foreign Ministry.... No one supervises the work of embassies in foreign countries or their financial affairs. Since the times of Avdy Kuliev [Turkmen foreign minister from 1990-1992, currently in exile], instead of doing proper work, everybody in the ministry has been serving his own interests and arranging his own affairs.... The consulates are issuing visas to any person in exchange for bribes...

There is not even elementary order and supervision in the Foreign Ministry. Usually, the minister himself and all top ministerial officials as well, first of all, are responsible for ensuring order in the performance of the work. Unfortunately, you have failed to carry out his duty. So I am dismissing you from your position..."

Niyazov, addressing the new foreign minister, Rashid Meredov, said: "You have to explain Turkmenistan's foreign policy to the world. Tell me -- is there any country in the world with such a rate of [economic] growth and with such internal stability? Those who think that true democracy is somewhere else are completely wrong. Perhaps, someone still thinks that true democracy is that which one sees in Russia, for example. If anyone here thinks so, you should kindly resign. Only those who are ready to defend Turkmenistan's prestige and serve its interests should work here. Those who lack knowledge of the Turkmen language may not work here, either. So do learn the Turkmen language�" (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, Turkmen TV

Ukraine Facing New Pressures on Gas Debts

13 July 2001

By Michael Lelyveld

Kazakhstan has reportedly reduced the flow of gas from Turkmenistan to Ukraine in the latest dispute over Kyiv's refusal to honor the debts of its energy companies.

This week, Vadim Kopylov, the head of the state energy company Naftogaz Ukrainy, told the Interfax news agency that Kazakhstan has cut gas deliveries from Turkmenistan by almost half. Pipeline routes from Turkmenistan run through Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia on their way to Ukraine.

Kazakhstan's move is the result of a chain of events that started in January when the Russian gas trader Itera announced that it was stopping gas supplies to Ukraine because its power companies owed $64 million in overdue bills.

The power companies claimed that their customers were not paying them. Naftogaz Ukrainy and the government declined to take responsibility for the debts.

Itera soon found that a complete cutoff was impossible, because the power companies simply diverted the gas they needed out of the flow of Russian deliveries to Europe, which run through Ukrainian lines.

At the time, Itera said that Russia's Gazprom was the source of the gas that was delivered to the Ukrainian generators. The unpaid bills were only a fraction of the $1.4 million that Russia has been trying to collect for past supplies to Ukraine.

But at the same time, Itera was also handling Turkmenistan's gas exports to Ukraine. Ashgabat had agreed to supply Kyiv as long as it paid in advance. Itera continued to carry the Turkmen gas to Ukraine, presumably because it could profit from the separate deal.

It now appears that Itera has shifted its tactics by delaying payment to the Kazakh pipeline company Intergaz for Ukraine's supplies of Turkmen gas. According to Interfax, Kazakhstan threatened to cut the gas transit unless Itera paid for earlier services to Ukraine.

Itera in turn has blamed the Ukrainian power companies for failing to pay their debts, which it now estimates at 56 million dollars. Itera seems to be implying that the Ukrainian generators were using Turkmen rather than Russian gas when they stopped paying their bills. The effect is to make Ukraine's non-payment a problem for Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan rather than Russia.

That strategy could prove successful over time. Ukraine may be able to endure the reduction during the summer, when gas demand is low. But as winter approaches, it may have to pay the debts or find another solution. Turkmenistan may also bring pressure to bear on Ukraine, which now accounts for about half of its gas exports.

The situation will test the policy of the Ukrainian government, which has steadfastly refused to take on the debts of either Naftogaz Ukrainy or the power companies as its own.

Last month, Ukrainian Prime Minister Anatolii Kinakh spurned a Russian proposal to restructure the energy company's gas debts by issuing Eurobonds that would be guaranteed by the state. The position was quickly supported by President Leonid Kuchma.

Last week, Kuchma said, "This question cannot be put this way at all. Corporate debts will never become state ones," Interfax reported. The government has also rejected a Russian plan to swap the debt for stakes in Ukrainian companies or control of the country's pipelines.

Last January, both Kuchma and former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko negotiated with Itera in an effort to avoid a gas shutoff. But Kinakh has since refused to honor the commitments that Yushchenko made.

Russia may now have found a more effective way of pressuring Ukraine by shifting some of the debt burden onto other suppliers. If the strategy works, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan may soon apply more pressure of their own. (RFE/RL)

Afghan Refugees: NGO Charges Pakistani Police With Abuse (Part 2)

12 July 2001

By Charles Recknagel

The recent death of an Afghan refugee in northwestern Pakistan -- reportedly following a police beating -- has publicized what refugees have long said is the widespread Pakistani police practice of demanding they pay bribes to avoid being expelled to Afghanistan.

The non-governmental human-rights organization Amnesty International has demanded the Pakistani government look into the death last month of Afghan refugee Salahuddin Samadi, who was allegedly stopped by police and severely beaten after not paying a bribe. Samadi died two weeks ago (27 June) in an Islamabad hospital after remaining in a coma for 10 days after the beating.

Islamabad's police chief, Nasir Durrani, has said that an investigation has been opened and that one police officer, Mohammad Saeed, has been dismissed and arrested on murder charges.

Amnesty International says that Samadi's killing is part of a pattern of harassment of Afghans by Pakistani security forces that annually sees thousands of people stopped in the streets of the northwestern city of Peshawar and elsewhere. Those detained are accused on the spot by policemen of being in the country illegally and told to pay an arbitrary fine. If they are unable to pay immediately, they are beaten or taken to a nearby border crossing and pushed into Afghanistan.

The human rights organization says that once the refugees are expelled into Afghanistan, most pay large sums of money to border guards to allow them to slip back into Pakistan, where their families are waiting for them.

Abbas Faiz, a spokesman for Amnesty International in London, says the harassment of Afghan refugees is systematic:

"[There has been] systematic and arbitrary arrest of Afghans, intimidation, beating of the Afghans, forcing them to pay a bribe. And those who do not pay a bribe, they are taken to police stations and then from there they are taken to the border and then pushed over the border into Afghan territory."

Faiz continues: "When Afghans are taken to the border, then on the other side of the border some Afghans actually find their way back into Pakistan. There is a lot of corruption, a lot of money which changes hands, and Afghan families are forced to really kind of buy a permission to return back to Pakistan."

Faiz says it is impossible to know the actual numbers of cases because the police keep no records of these arbitrary arrests and expulsions.

The police do not write down the names of the Afghans they take to the police stations -- there is no record. If Afghans are kept in detention, no one knows about them. So it is very difficult to know exactly how many have been deported, but the information that we have [suggests] definitely hundreds, if not thousands. It is a government policy. The governor of the Northwest Frontier Province has several times stated that Afghans are not welcome in Pakistan anymore and this has been taken by the Pakistani police as a sanction for their abuse of power."

Afghan refugees themselves can relate hundreds of stories of detentions, beatings, and expulsions, either suffered first-hand or by neighbors. RFE/RL's Turkmen Service recently spoke to many ethnic Turkmen refugees from Afghanistan about their experiences.

One refugee, who has lived in Pakistan for 18 years, told the Turkmen Service that he was detained recently in the Peshawar area and threatened with expulsion through the nearby border crossing of Torkham if he did not pay a bribe. The refugee asked for anonymity in telling his story:

"They picked me up and asked for a bribe and when I couldn't pay they took me to a police station. There was nowhere to sleep, nothing to eat and the police said that if you don't give money you'll go to [the border crossing at] Torkham. They said it doesn't matter if you have lived here 18 years, give us the money. I sent to my family for money and they brought it and then I was released after paying 200 rupees ($3). Others have paid 3,000 rupees ($47). I even showed them I have Pakistani documents and they said that doesn't mean anything."

Others have similar stories. Another ethnic Turkmen, a resident of Peshawar, told RFE/RL that his neighbor suffered the deaths of his two children and his wife as a result of his being detained and expelled from the country:

"My name is Doctor Rahmatullah and I live in Peshawar. My neighbor Allamurad's wife was sick and they took her to the hospital and he left his two children at home. On his way back from the hospital the police picked him up and sent him to the border crossing at Torkham. After three days, he was able to return home and he found that both his children -- whom he had locked inside his house -- had died. He brought his wife home from the hospital and when she saw her children were dead the shock killed her, too."

Rahmatullah says that his neighbor has gone mad from grief and shows no signs of recovering his sanity.

Many ethnic-Turkmen refugees in Pakistan say they fear returning to Afghanistan as long as fighting continues there. Turkmen refugees have contacted the government of Turkmenistan to learn if they can return instead to that country, their original homeland. But Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who shortly after Turkmenistan's independence encouraged all ethnic Turkmen to contribute to building the country, has since shown little enthusiasm for repatriation. Late last year, he said he does not want to interfere with refugees in other countries.

Amnesty International says that the Pakistani police appear to enjoy a free hand in deciding who should be arrested or deported. The human-rights organization says that so far it has seen no statements from the Pakistani government saying that harassment of refugees at the hands of police must stop or promising any kind of measures to end the abuses.

Afghan Refugees: Pakistan Moving Toward Deportations (Part 1)

12 July 2001

By Charles Recknagel

Pakistan's decision to begin screening -- and most likely deporting -- tens of thousands of Afghans who do not qualify for refugee status comes as a timely illustration of what the UN says is a worsening situation for Afghan refugees worldwide.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, issued a statement in Geneva on 11 July saying that "overall the picture concerning Afghans, the single biggest group of refugees in the world at four million or more, is about as grim as it can get."

UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville told a press briefing that there is a growing "lack of hospitality, and in some cases downright hostility" to Afghan refugees not only in the region near Afghanistan but throughout the world.

Colville says last year some 34,000 Afghans arrived in Europe -- almost twice the number two years ago. But he says the asylum-seekers face an "ever-growing barricade of exclusionary measures." In some cases, they have been "slapped straight into detention," and in others "simply folded into a wider group" of migrants considered to be economically motivated.

The UNHCR also says hundreds of thousands of Afghans last year fled into Iran and Pakistan due to fighting and a continuing drought, now in its third year. At the same time, about a half-a-million people have been internally displaced inside Afghanistan.

But thousands of Afghans have been deported this year from Iran, where a new law forbids employers from using foreign labor. In addition, the UNHCR says, all six countries bordering Afghanistan -- Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and China -- have closed their borders to new Afghan arrivals.

Earlier this week, Islamabad's decision to begin screening Afghans gave a clear example of how precarious the refugees' situation has become.

Islamabad announced on 7 July that it intends to clear more than 60,000 refugees from a long-standing camp known as Nasir Bagh on the outskirts of Peshawar in northwest Pakistan. Many of the refugees have lived in the camp since the early 1980s, after fleeing the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the ensuing war.

Abbas Sarfaraz Khan, Pakistan's minister responsible for refugee camps, said there would be a three-month screening program to determine which residents qualify for asylum and which should be deported. The Nasir Bagh site, once cleared, is to be used to build housing for civil servants.

RFE/RL telephoned a UNHCR regional spokesman in Islamabad, Peter Kessler, to learn more about the screening program. Kessler said the Pakistani government plans to carry out the screening in cooperation with the UNHCR first at the Nasir Bagh site and later at Jalozai, an officially unrecognized encampment of newly arrived refugees also near Peshawar.

Kessler: "Under the proposed screening program, joint UNHCR and Pakistani government teams would do [the] screening. People who would be screened and who then would be considered refugees and would be able to stay on in Pakistan would go to refugee camps. Those Afghans who would not be considered to need the shelter and protection of remaining in Pakistan could be deported by the government."

Kessler estimates that a total of some 100,000 people live at the two sites. Initially they held many more but in past months thousands of residents have slipped out to seek shelter in other refugee camps or in Afghan-populated neighborhoods in Peshawar.

The UNHCR spokesman told our correspondent that the agency welcomes Pakistan's decision to begin screening. The reason is that until now the government has refused to acknowledge as refugees any of the some 200,000 Afghans who have arrived in the country since September, when Pakistan closed its border to new arrivals. Along with that refusal, Pakistan barred international agencies from providing relief services to the newcomers, which it says are mostly economic migrants. The lack of assistance has led to the deaths of at least a dozen children and elderly at Jalozai due to unsanitary conditions that are easily preventable.

But while relief workers welcome the screening to identify at least some of the new arrivals as refugees and make them eligible for assistance, there is concern that genuine refugees now also risk being deported in the process. The possibility for misunderstanding is particularly high for refugees who say they are seeking asylum from the Taliban, which rules some 95 percent of Afghanistan. Pakistan views the Taliban as the legitimate government of the country and rejects the view of the UN and other international organizations that the fundamentalist militia is a serious abuser of human and women's rights.

Kessler says: "We don't want to see, and the [proposed joint UNHCR-Pakistani screening] agreement states, that [forced] inhumane movements will not take place."

Those Afghans whom the screening determines do not qualify for political asylum will be deported by the Pakistani government outside of the UNHCR's own repatriation program. The UNHCR program, available to Afghans with refugee status who voluntarily go home, provides each returning family with the equivalent of $90, materials for shelter, and 150 kilograms of food aid. Last year, the UNHCR program assisted some 77,000 people in returning home. Pakistan has not announced if it will provide deportees with repatriation assistance.

Kessler says that many Afghans who fear they do not qualify for refugee status are likely to disappear into the Afghan neighborhoods of Peshawar to avoid deportation. He says it is unclear how the government will regard those people, but in the initial phase, at least, it may simply ignore them.

"Afghans [who don't qualify as refugees] would have an option, at least in the initial stages, of being trucked back to Afghanistan or of going to sites elsewhere in the country where they wouldn't get refugee assistance but might be able to stay on here in Pakistan. It is not necessarily very concrete and clear, but many Afghans are moving into local Afghan neighborhoods on the outskirts of Peshawar and that will probably be the case for many people."

It is unclear whether Pakistan will continue the screening beyond the two camps it has announced. If screening does continue, it also is unclear whether it would extend only to the some 200,000 new arrivals or extend retroactively to others who came into the country before the border was closed.

Pakistani officials have long complained about the presence of some two million Afghans on Pakistani soil. They say their country cannot afford to accommodate so many foreigners -- even those recognized as refugees -- without substantially more financial help from the international community.

Most of the refugees are from among the more than three million Afghans who fled to Pakistan during the decade-long Soviet-Afghan war. Pakistan once received generous international assistance for the refugees, but that has shrunk dramatically since the end of the Cold War -- dropping from some $80 million 15 years ago to some $12 million now.

UN refugee officials have repeatedly called on donor countries to make more money available, particularly for assistance inside Afghanistan to accommodate the newest waves of displaced people and keep them from seeking refuge abroad. But so far donor response has been disappointing.

The UN last month issued a special alert to donor countries calling for additional emergency food aid for Afghanistan. A mission from the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), which recently visited Afghanistan, estimated that the country this year faces a grain shortfall of one million tons beyond its own food resources and currently pledged food aid.

The UN has warned that, as drought and fighting in the country continue, the number of internally displaced people in Afghanistan could grow to one million by the end of this winter. (RFE/RL)

Russia Seeking To Build Oil Pipeline To Iran

9 July 2001

By Michael Lelyveld

Russia appears to be joining the race to build a Caspian pipeline to Iran after European oil companies announced plans to study the route.

Speaking at a London conference on 4 July, the head of the Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft said his company had started a feasibility study for an Iranian line with its Kazakh counterpart, KazTransOil.

The study is separate from one planned by the French and Belgian oil company TotalFinaElf, Reuters said.

Transneft's Semyon Vainshtok said the line would run through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, linking the Siberian oil center of Omsk with Iran's Caspian port of Neka. The project would allow Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan to swap their oil with Iran, which can export equal amounts of its crude through the Persian Gulf, Vainshtok said.

The new Russian plan is the latest of many involving Iran and Caspian oil swaps. Ideally, swaps could save hundreds of kilometers in transit by letting Iran refine Caspian oil for use in its northern cities. But in practice, the trade has proved difficult so far.

Iran has had an agreement for crude exchanges with Kazakhstan since 1996, but little oil has changed hands. Turkmenistan has been swapping small amounts of oil, while Iran has undertaken a major project at Neka and its northern refineries to raise its capacity.

Last week, Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov made a rare trip to Astana after Kazakh Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov complained publicly that Turkmen transit tariffs to Iran were too high.

Despite the problems, the route has been promoted as cheaper for Caspian exports than the U.S.-backed pipeline from Baku to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

Last month, a TotalFinaElf official confirmed the company's plan to pursue the Iran option after a "Financial Times" report. Kristof de Marjerey told Azerbaijan's Media Press that Western oil companies were "eager to sign a memorandum of understanding this summer on setting up a new pipeline connecting Kazakh oil fields with Iran."

Russia seems to have reacted to that interest in striking a deal for its own plan with Kazakhstan.

Robert Ebel, director of the energy and national security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the move may be aimed at making sure that Russia is included in the TotalFinaElf effort.

Ebel told RFE/RL: "It would be logical to combine those studies. You don't need to do two."

But on its face, the Russian proposal may make little sense. While Omsk is an oil center, it is over 4,000 kilometers from Iranian territory in a straight line. The connecting pipelines in western Kazakhstan also run north rather than south.

Moscow's effort seems to be directed at making sure that there is a Russian solution for all Kazakh oil exports, no matter which way they flow. Much of Vainshtok's comments were aimed at convincing his audience that Transneft can provide the best alternatives, either through Novorossiysk on the Black Sea or the new port at Primorsk on the Gulf of Finland.

Russia's attempt to become involved with an Iran route seemed to conflict with that message. Clearly, it would be hard for both the Iranian and Russian options to be the "best."

Within the past month, Russia has made extra efforts to engage with Iran's oil industry. Last week, Russia signed an agreement for "cooperation in the retooling of the Iranian oil and gas complex," the ITAR-TASS news agency reported. But Russia's record of cooperation has been poor.

In March, the head of the center for coordination of Russian-Iranian programs, Radzhab Safarov, said that Russian oil companies had failed to respond to some 40 offers of Iranian projects on advantageous terms, Interfax reported.

Safarov said, "Furthermore, Iran committed to not announcing international tenders if Russian companies, including Gazprom and Lukoil, had agreed."

"However, Russian companies failed to promptly react to these offers, and when Iran put its offers up for international tender, our companies succeeded in winning only two projects," he said.

There is little sign that Gazprom has contributed to developing Iran's South Pars gas field under a landmark contract in 1997 that also involved Total, the forerunner of TotalFinaElf.

The two countries are also at odds over a formula for dividing the Caspian Sea, a conflict that could strain cooperation on a pipeline for swaps.

The record makes it hard to predict how Iran will respond as Russia tries to gain a role in its Caspian route. It is also unclear whether the plan would give Kazakhstan another choice or just another form of Russian control (RFE/RL)

Where Is The Cotton?

13 July 2001

As official Ashgabat has reported, that record 2 million tons of wheat have already been harvested this year in Turkmenistan, one of the most deserted states in the world. The next task is to collect 2 million tons of cotton, too. Is it really possible?

Considering the current weather conditions in Turkmenistan, our listeners in Turkmenistan inform that the Murgab River has completely dried out now because of the terrible drought in Central Asia this year. There is neither water nor grass on the river banks. Takhtabazar and Iolatan district inhabitants try to sell all their cattle to save them from dying from hunger.

On 9 July, Chary Kuliev, the governor of the Mary district, has applied to Niyazov at the Cabinet of Ministers' session with the request to arrange regular water supplies to the Takhtabazar area. He also remarked that in the Dashoguz area the water shortage situation is even worse.

The water supply is not properly distributed in the country. In most Turkmen regions people have to wake up early in the morning to get some water from rare wells. Like in the area from Ilialin to Boldumsaz, there is only one well for the local people. Sometimes they succeed to fill only one bucket with the precious liquid. Otherwise, you have a chance of being without water in temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius.

In several places cotton fields are reported to be burning. The official press keeps silent on the unprecedented drought and its harmful consequences. How the Turkmen leadership is going to harvest 2 million tons of cotton remains their secret. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)