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Turkmen Report: April 22, 2000

22 April 2000
Second Turkmen Opposition Conference to Open in Stockholm
April 20, 2000

Second conference of the Mertebe (Dignity) organization, uniting Turkmens living abroad, opens in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 21, 2000.

The conference's organizers tell RFE/RL's Turkmen service that Mertebe will address important for the Turkmen opposition issues that have not been discussed previously.

Delegates will consider ways to provide moral and financial support to democratic forces in Turkmenistan, as well as means of raising international awareness of the damages caused to the country by President Niyazov's dictatorial regime.

Representatives of the Turkmen Diaspora in Western Europe and Russia are expected to take part in the conference. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Amnesty International Praises Turkmen Rights Policy
April 20, 2000

Turkmen first TV channel reports that Amnesty International has expressed its gratitude to the government of Turkmenistan for "humanizing the country's judicial system and abolition of the death penalty."

According to Turkmen TV, government of Turkmenistan has been praised for taking "consistent concrete measures to further soften the country's judicial system that evoked approval and backing of international human rights activists."

Turkmen TV report says that Niyazov's decree abolishing the death penalty in the "is clear evidence of Turkmenistan's adherence to its international commitments in protecting and respecting individual rights and freedoms." (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen TV Channel 1)

Iran Ready to Buy 13 Billion Cubic Meters of Gas from Turkmenistan
April 21, 2000

Turkmenistan and Iran are preparing a new long-term contract on purchases of Turkmen natural gas, Turkmenistan Oil Minister Redzhipbai Arazov told Itar-Tass after talks with his Iranian counterpart on Thursday. Arazov said Iran is willing to buy 13 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas next year instead of previously planned yearly 2 billion cubic meters.

The contract will presumably be signed during a meeting between presidents Saparmurat Niyazov and Mohammad Khatami, Arazov said. (Itar-Tass)

EBRD Freezes Loan Program to Turkmenistan
April 19, 2000

The development bank for the former Soviet bloc, the EBRD, has suspended public sector loans to the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan in protest at the anti-democratic rule of President Saparmurat Niyazov, the Financial Times reported today.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development took the action after the leader, who was declared president for life last December, refused earlier this week to meet with an EBRD delegation.

EBRD first vice-president Charles Frank said the country's foreign exchange and trade regime were distorted, its economic reforms hesitant and there was no progress towards a democratic political system, the FT said.

The EBRD will continue to countenance private sector loans, but has frozen all funding for the public sector, the newspaper said.

In response to EBRD's action, President Niyazov said today the bank is conditioning loans to his country on the creation of an multi-party system and that Turkmenistan does not need "artificial" parties. Niyazov said it is possible for anyone to establish a political party in Turkmenistan provided that the person works within the limits of the law. (RFE/RL - AFP)

"Case" Company to Deliver Agriculture Equipment to Turkmenistan
April 18, 2000

President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov and Jean Claude Schneider, Regional Director of the U.S. company "Case," signed today a contract for delivery to Turkmenistan of 60 bulldozers and excavators [earth-moving machines] for melioration works.

Interfax reports that that equipment will begin arriving on June 1 and will be fully delivered by October 22, 2000.

"Case" corporation has been actively working in Turkmenistan since 1994. Its main competitor in the field of agricultural equipment is another American company "John Deere." Both of these companies have received a loan of nearly $600 million from Eximbank of USA specifically for this project.

President Niyazov offered "Case" to extent its activities in Turkmenistan and invited the company to participate in several land drainage and road construction programs. (Interfax)

Azeri President Disgruntled With Turkmen Counterpart Over Gas Exports
April 20, 2000

Azeru Bilik Dunyasi news agency reports that Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev is disappointed with his Turkmen counterpart Saparmurat Niyazov on the issue of Azerbaijan-Turkmenistan gas and old export relations.

Aliyev criticized Ashgabat during the meeting with Turkish Health Minister Osman Durmus in Baku.

"Up to now we have been trying to transport Turkmen gas through the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. However, the Turkmen president says one thing and does another. The matter is that we will start exporting gas in 2002. Where shall we export it to?" Aliyev said. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Bilik Dunyasi)

Dispute 0ver Debts Between Azerbaijan And Turkmenistan Rumbles On
April 17, 2000

Azerbaijani news agency Turan reports that Azerbaijan's state debt to Turkmenistan is now $18.7 million. Since 1995 till 1999, Azerbaijan was returning the debt by supplying Turkmenistan with mainly lubricants. This year, however, the Turkmen side has not yet asked the Azerbaijani government for another supply of oil products.

According to calculations from the Turkmen side, Azerbaijan's debt amounts to 33.97 million dollars.

Difference in calculations is due to the fact that the Turkmen side has counted penalties on the basic sum of the debt. Moreover, the Azerbaijani side claims that when repaying the debt in the past, the Turkmen government had asked it to send oil products to a Turkish company, which was then supposed to sell them and transfer the money to Turkmenistan. Now, however, the Turkmen government says it never received any money from the Turkish company and denies the whole arrangement, despite the fact that there are documents confirming the initial request of the Turkmen government.

Azerbaijani experts say that the difference in calculations should be addressed after Azerbaijan repays 18.7 million dollars. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turan news agency)

Ashgabat Criticizes U.S. Stand on Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline
April 17, 2000

The Turkmen Cabinet of Ministers is studying statements of special aide to the U.S. President and Secretary of State John Wolf, made after the Congressional hearing on the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline on April 15, Interfax has been told by the Turkmen Foreign Ministry.

The hearing was supposed to focus on Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, the main oil route from Azerbaijan, and on Trans-Caspian pipeline, which is to deliver Turkmen and Azerbaijani gas to Europe across Azerbaijan and Georgia, the Ministry source said. However, the Trans-Caspian pipeline project was not considered at the hearing.

In a brief statement to the press after the hearings, Wolf, the de facto chief U.S. supervisor of the project, conditioned the Trans-Caspian project on negotiations between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, the Ministry source said. The earlier Baku and Ashgabat settle their differences, the sooner parameters of the project become known, he said.

Washington's position comes as a surprise to Ashgabat.

The Ministry source told Interfax, "Wolf's predecessor Richard Morningstar, whose work was evaluated by Ashgabat as efficient, has helped to agree that the Trans-Caspian pipeline project will not be directly dependent on the Baku Ashgabat talks on disputed issues in the Caspian delimitation."

According to Turkmen official, Wolf "absolutely ignored the recently reached accord between presidents Saparmurat Niyazov and Heydar Aliyev on quota distribution in the future pipeline. Under that accord, the Turkmen quota will be 25 billion cubic meters of gas, and the Azerbaijani quota will consist of 5 billion cubic meters," the source said.

The Turkmen Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources Ministry is also puzzled by Wolf's statements, the ministry press service told Interfax. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service - Interfax)

Niyazov Unleashes Against Turkmen Law Enforcement Agencies
April 18, 2000

During the Cabinet of Ministers' meeting on April 18, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov severely criticized national law enforcement agencies.

Niyazov said there have been many cases of officials selling Turkmen passports to foreigners, which, according to Niyazov, has caused growth of criminal activity in the country.

Niyazov also highlighted the problem of illegal residents in Turkmenistan, who only in Ashgabat total 30 per cent of the population.

Niyazov asked the Minister of Justice to draw special legislation, prohibiting employment of persons without legal residence permits and specifying travel policy for foreigners.

Turkmen president further ordered the Ministry of Justice to draw a legislation prohibiting law enforcement agents from conducting house searches.

Niyazov also announced a new government position of the president's aid, whose staff will oversee activities of government members and other officials. (Interfax)

Afghan Taleban Handover 9 Turkmen Prisoners As Gesture Of Goodwill
April 18, 2000

According to a report of Afghanistan's Bakhtar Information Agency, nine Turkmen prisoners were handed over by the appointed Afghan delegation to a Turkmen delegation in Torghundi, Herat Province, on April 17.

The nine prisoners had entered Afghanistan illegally and had been detained by the Afghan authorities.

The Turkmen delegation warmly welcomed the Afghan initiative, describing it as a positive step towards strengthening and expanding good relations between the two countries. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Radio Voice of Shari'ah)

Niyazov Receives UN Envoy On Afghanistan, Talk Of Peace Process
April 17, 2000

According to Turkmen TV Channel 1, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov received the UN special envoy for Afghanistan Frances Vendrell.

The two sides discussed present political situation and possibilities for peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. Niyazov and Vendrell also noted that Turkmenistan was implementing a "consistent and balanced neutral policy towards Afghanistan." (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen TV Channel 1)

Russia To Take Active Role In Caspian Sea Region
April 21, 2000

Russia's President-elect Vladimir Putin says Moscow must take a more active role in defending its national interests in the Caspian Sea region.

Speaking today at a meeting of the national Security Council, Putin said Russia must throw its full weight behind efforts to compete with the United States for control of the natural resources in the region.

Putin said the council decided to create a post of presidential representative in charge of the region affairs. Also, the council set up a coordinating group within the Foreign Ministry for resolving the problems facing the Caspian Sea region, Putin announced.

The group will be composed of heads and representatives of the federal agencies, representatives of the fuel and energy and transport sector.

Putin spoke with the press after the Security Council session.

He noted that problems affecting the Caspian region include issues related to security, military presence, oil and gas and transport sectors.

The Caspian Sea region is thought to have oil fields with large reserves. Russia has long maintained that its reserves should be used jointly by all countries of the region. (RFE/RL - DPA - Interfax)

Russian Duma Approves Global Nuclear Test Ban
April 21, 2000

Russia's State Duma today approved the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

The treaty bans all forms of nuclear testing but does not cut weapons. The United States has signed it but the U.S. Senate failed to ratify it last year. Among the other major nuclear powers, France and Britain also have ratified the treaty. China has signed it but has yet to ratify it. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov expressed his satisfaction at today's vote.

Earlier today, the Security Council approved Russia's new military doctrine. The doctrine reserves Russia's right to be the first to use nuclear weapons.

Precise details of the document were not immediately clear. In February, when the doctrine received its first preliminary approval, the West reacted with concern saying it is tougher than a previous version. (RFE/RL - RTR - AP - AFP)

Gazprom To Return Kazakh Gas Market
April 21, 2000

The line demarcating the Kazakh and Russian sectors of the Caspian Sea could be revised depending on economic considerations, Prime Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev said on Friday during a meeting with Russian State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov.

The line divides the sea's sub-surface resources.

Tokayev said the revisions would be made based on hydrocarbons discoveries in the area.

"If a field is discovered by a Russian company, if it invested money, the demarcation line could be side-stepped, even if it muddies the legal side of the matter," he said. "In principle, that's the correct decision."

Tokayev mentioned the Khvalynskoye field, where Lukoil found oil late in March. The field straddles the current median line.

Kazakhstan and Russia signed a demarcation treaty on their Caspian sectors in 1998. They are now working to define the exact coordinates of the demarcation line, something Tokayev said was "very important."

A multination consortium is currently finishing up drilling of a first test well at the East Kashagan field in the Kazakh sector, where operations began last August. The results of the drilling are encouraging, Kazakh officials have said, citing preliminary data.

The government of Kazakhstan has reached principle agreement on the return of Russia's Gazprom to the Kazakh gas market.

Gazprom's return "is very important," Tokayev said in announcing the agreement at the meeting with Seleznyov. (Interfax)

Shanghai Five To Fight Jointly Against Terrorism
April 21, 2000

Interior ministers from Russia, China and three Central Asian states met today in Moscow to discuss a joint strategy for fighting international terrorism and crime.

Opening the one-day meeting of the Shanghai Five group, Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said it was essential to agree on "decisive joint measures."

The Shanghai Five group includes, besides Russia and China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Rushailo said terrorism had spread in the North Caucasus and Central Asia and threatened other territories as well. He said the five nations must also join efforts to fight weapons and drugs smuggling and illegal immigration.

The meeting is expected to draft documents for a planned summit of the Shanghai Five in Dushanbe next month. (RFE/RL - Itar-Tass - AFP)

Central Asian Presidents End Talks, Sign Agreements
April 21, 2000

The presidents of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan finished their two-day summit in the Uzbek capital Tashkent today by signing a new agreement aimed at alleviating regional security problems.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov said the agreement goes farther than previous agreements the presidents have signed.

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev said the agreement was their answer to terrorism and extremism threatening the region. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov said the agreement offered not only security for individual countries but for the whole region.

Bombings in Tashkent and an attack on southern Kyrgyzstan by Islamic militants last year prompted the Tashkent summit. A number of government officials from the United States and Russia have visited the CIS Central Asian states in April to offer help.

Earlier this week U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright completed a tour of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Albright invited the leaders of the three countries to an anti-terrorism conference in Washington in June. (RFE/RL Uzbek Service - RTR)

Kyrgyz Deputy PM Speaks On Economy, Security
April 21, 2000

Kyrgyzstan's Deputy Prime Minister Esengul OmurAliyev says his country is recovering well from the effects of the 1998 financial crisis and expects to see economic growth in 2000. OmurAliyev made the comment today in Prague, where he was visiting Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He also said the entry of his country into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in late 1998 has been helpful to the country. OmurAliyev said besides the preferential status Kyrgyz exports have among other WTO countries, training Kyrgyz specialists about world trade has been helpful.

OmurAliyev also spoke about the problem with Islamic militants who invaded southern Kyrgyzstan last summer. OmurAliyev said the government knows the militants and their tactics better than last year and has taken measures to prevent a repeat of the attack. (RFE/RL)

Akayev: Democratic Transformations in Kyrgyzstan Irreversible
April 20, 2000

Problems with democratic rights and freedoms which arose during the parliamentary elections will be discussed by international observers and local politicians at a roundtable meeting, Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev has said.

The roundtable meeting, held with the assistance of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), will analyze all the negative aspects of the recent election campaign, Akayev said.

The recommendations, aimed at the normalization of public life, "must be fulfilled, otherwise it is senseless to have the roundtable meeting," he noted.

Akayev said he believes that democratic processes in Kyrgyzstan are irreversible.

As for leader of the Arnamys opposition party Felix Kulov, who is now in custody, Akayev said this is a criminal case and the verdict is up to the court. (Interfax)

Albright Finishes Central Asian Visit
April 19, 2000

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has left Uzbekistan, completing her three-country tour of Central Asia. Besides Uzbekistan, Albright visited Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, avoiding two other neighbors, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Central Asian region faces a number of difficulties with crime, Islamic fundamentalism, and international terrorism spreading from the neighboring Afghanistan. As Albright told RFE/RL today, the U.S. is helping governments in the region combat these problems.

Albright met with Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov yesterday. At a press conference after the meeting, Albright said there were issues on which the two sides did not agree, particularly concerning social and political reform in Uzbekistan.

"We had a frank discussion of the importance of meeting international norms on a variety of human rights issues. Uzbekistan would move closer to those norms by cooperating with international humanitarian organizations to arrange visits to Uzbekistan's prisons, by expanding the registration of human rights organizations and protecting human rights defenders," Albright said.

U.S. Secretary of State began her visit to Central Asia on April 15 in Kazakhstan, where she met with President Nursultan Nazarbayev and 12 representatives of ruling and opposition political parties and movements.

On April 16, Albright visited Kyrgyzstan, where she echoed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) criticism of Kyrgyzstan's recent parliamentary elections as not fully meeting international standards. Albright also expressed concern over the continued detention of opposition leader Felix Kulov by authorities.

Albright announced during her visits to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan that the U.S. will give three million dollars each in aid for improving border security, purchasing new technology, and personnel training. Albright also invited leaders of the three countries to a counter-terrorism conference in Washington this June. (RFE/RL - RTR - AFP - AP)