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Turkmen Report: May 13, 2000

13 May 2000
Putin To Visit Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan May 18 and 19
May 12, 2000

Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to pay working visits to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan May 18-19 at the invitations of the Uzbek and Turkmen Presidents, Islam Karimov and Saparmurat Niyazov, the acting deputy presidential chief of staff Sergei Prikhodko told Interfax Friday. (Interfax)

Turkmenistan Bans Unsanctioned Searches In Private Homes
May 12, 2000

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed on May 12 the constitutional law "On Banning Searches in the Homes of Turkmenistan's Citizens."

The law forbids unsanctioned searches in citizens' homes and symbolizes "the sacredness of the family hearth, property and reputation, of human honor, dignity and pride."

The decision was taken by the president "to prevent any officials from infringing on human rights and freedoms."

Searches will be permitted only in exceptional cases on suspicion of storing weapons, ammunition, explosives, or narcotics in quantities of over 5 kilos. Even then, the search should be sanctioned by a special commission of representatives of state power organs, public organizations and law enforcement agencies. (Interfax)

Turkmen President Extends Personality Cult To His Late Father
May 8, 2000

Turkmenistan observed a national day of mourning Monday as President Saparmurat Niyazov presided over a symbolic reburial ceremony for his father as part of the nation's World War II commemorations.

Niyazov, who has built up a Stalin-like personality cult in this former Soviet republic, said in a televised speech that the reburial ceremony was organized "at the wish of the people: the elders, schoolchildren, office workers and students."

The president's father, Atamurat Niyazov, is thought to have died during the war in December 1942, but his grave was found only two years ago.

Land from the communal grave, where many unidentified bodies are buried, was transported from the Russian republic of North Ossetia to the village of Kipchak, where Atamurat was born, in a ceremony attended by the president, ministers, religious leaders and elders.

The reburial was the latest in a series of steps designed to extend the personality cult surrounding the president to his father.

On Friday Niyazov, who calls himself Turkmenbashi, or Father of all Turkmen, designated his father a "Hero of Turkmenistan" in recognition for what was described as his bravery and courage during the war.

An in recent months, the newspaper Neutralny Turkmenistan has published letters it said came in daily extolling the virtues of the president's late father.

Niyazov was first elected president in an unopposed race in 1990 in which he was said to have received 98.3 percent of the vote.

His term was extended in nationwide referendums in 1992 and again in 1994, when 99.9 percent of voters reportedly backed his remaining in office until 2003.

He was then named president-for-life in the impoverished Central Asian republic in December. (RFE/RL - AFP)

Turkmenistan Observes WWII Victim Commemoration Day
May 8, 2000

Turkmenistan celebrated for the first time World War II Victim Commemoration Day on Monday.

This day was proclaimed by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov last week. It will be celebrated together with Victory Day on May 9.

The president took part in the burial of an urn containing soil from the tomb of his father, Atamurat Niyazov, who died in 1942 near the village of Chikola, North Ossetia.

The ceremony began at the airport where a plane had delivered the urn. Draped in the national flag of Turkmenistan, the urn was placed on a gun carriage attached to an armored fighting vehicle and decorated with flowers.

The cortege headed for the president's native village of Kipchak not far from Ashgabat where the urn with the soil was buried.

Authorities plan to build a war memorial on this place to commemorate all residents of Turkmenistan who perished in World War II. (Itar-Tass)

Turkmenistan Criticizes U.S. Position In Trans-Caspian Gas Project
May 12, 2000

Turkmenistan expected "decisive participation" from the U.S. authorities in the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project, but this expectation has proved to be "wishful thinking," Turkmen Oil and Gas Minister Redzhepbai Arazov has told Interfax.

Arazov said he believes "private companies will be unable to implement such a huge project without guarantees from the governments of both the participant-countries and the U.S., which has claimed the role of main curator of the project."

Ashgabat regards "the latest remarks by U.S. President and Secretary of State special envoy John Wolf concerning Turkmenistan's position on the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project as unworthy of a serious response," a Turkmen government source has said.

Addressing a conference in Istanbul recently, Wolf in fact accused Ashgabat of failing to meet its obligations on the Trans-Caspian project. At the same time, Wall Street Journal quoted the U.S. diplomat as claiming that Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan are waiting for Turkmenistan to start carrying out the conditions of the agreement with Turkey on the sale of gas through the Trans-Caspian pipeline.

"Mr. Wolf has apparently chosen Ashgabat as an object of criticism to justify their own omissions and faults at a time when real facts testify to the non-fulfillment of obligations and actions earlier agreed on by the participants in the project, and above all the American partners," the source said.

Since September 1999, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has repeatedly urged the U.S. administration to ensure that the project is implemented on time and that there is no departure from the initial accords approved by OSCE during the Istanbul summit, the source said.

"Adhering to the idea of variety in the ways of bringing its fuel to the world market, Turkmenistan has not abandoned the Trans-Caspian project. On the contrary, it has stressed the need to follow the initial accords," the government representative said. (Interfax)

Putin To Sign Agreement On Sale Of Turkmen Gas To Russia
May 12, 2000

An agreement between Russia and Turkmenistan will be signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Turkmenistan, under which Turkmenistan will sell 50 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Russia over 30 years, a source in the Turkmen Cabinet told Interfax on Friday.

This, however, will be only an agreement in principle, because Russian gas monopoly Gazprom (represented by ITERA, an international corporation) and Turkmenneftegaz (a state trade corporation) have not agreed on a price for the gas.

While Turkmenistan wants $40 per 1,000 cubic meters, Russia is not prepared to pay more than $32-$33. Several rounds of talks have not resolved the issue. However, Presidents Saparmurat Niyazov and Putin may arrive at a mutual decision on the price and the agreement will come into effect soon afterwards, the source said. (Interfax)

Moscow Concerned With Stalled Talks About Caspian Sea Status
May 12, 2000

Russia is calling for the next session of the Special Working Group on defining the Caspian Sea's status to get underway as soon as possible, sources in Moscow told Interfax on May 11.

The sources pointed out that such a meeting was to be held in Tehran as early as last October, bringing together the deputy foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan.

Iran has been dragging its feet, however, saying it "has not been prepared properly," one source said.

Russia on the other hand believes that the time is ripe for a meeting at the level of deputy foreign minister and that such a session "could provide impetus to working up the Caspian Sea's new status."

Russia's attitude, which Kazakhstan also shares, might be "the basis for a rapprochement," they said, noting that "Moscow has not yet been able to convince its other Caspian partners of this."

Experts have said that Moscow is calling for the joint use of the Caspian's surface waters and depths, while drawing figurative lines along its floor so that each country is able to develop resources according to its own interests.

Moscow's position is softer than Tehran's, which is calling for either the joint use of the sea like a condominium, or the whole of it being divided into equal 20% sectors.

Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan reject both of these proposals, wanting to divide the sea into unequal parts. (Interfax)

Lukoil Predicts Opening Of Large Oil Field In Northern Caspian Sea
May 12, 2000

A new oil deposit will be discovered in the northern part of the Caspian Sea, Vagit Alekperov, president of the Russian oil company Lukoil, has said.

The results of exploratory drilling on the promising Khvalynskaya formation look good, Alexperov told the students and faculty of the St. Petersburg Mining Institute on Friday. The company will make an official announcement of its findings in Astrakhan on June 2, he said. The newly discovered field is estimated to contain 300 million tons of oil, and Lukoil has invested nearly $250 million in its exploration, he reported.

Lukoil will invest nearly $50 million in the drilling operation in northern areas of the Caspian Sea in 2000, Alekperov went on. The drilling equipment is being moved to another structure where two wells will be drilled, he said.

This is the first time in 25 years that a new oil province is discovered in Russia, enabling the country to offset the decline in oil production, Alekperov said. Nearly $9 billion will have to be invested. (Interfax)

Khatami Says Caspian Sea States Should Keep Foreigners Out
May 11, 2000

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami says the states that border the Caspian Sea should cooperate to promote stability in the area, and should not allow any foreign power to become involved.

In a speech today to naval cadets in the northern Iranian city of Noshahr, Khatami said the Caspian belongs to the five countries that surround it.

He called for strong agreements between the rim states to guarantee peace and stability, and said no foreign power should be allowed to enter the zone.

The United States, which has imposed an embargo against Tehran for allegedly sponsoring terrorism, has pushed to prevent the Caspian rim states from using Iran as a transit country for oil and gas pipelines, even though it provides the most economic route. (RFE/RL - AFP)

Azerbaijan Ready To Ratify Baku-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline Contract
May 11, 2000

All legal and commercial documents of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline project are ready for ratification by the Azerbaijani parliament, President of the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic Natiq Aliyev said in Baku on Wednesday evening.

Azerbaijan received the documents outlining the obligations of Turkey and Georgia in transporting Azerbaijani oil on Tuesday, he said. Aliyev did not give the details immediately, but said the Company and the Azerbaijani Cabinet would make all nuances of the bills public as soon as the parliament has debated the accords.

The project of a Trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Turkey across the Caspian seabed and the territories of Azerbaijan and Georgia is a priority for Azerbaijan, Aliyev said. In the future Azerbaijan will export gas and a regional pipeline will be necessary, he noted.

Yet, he said he is dissatisfied with the pace of the project's advancement. "We do not want to depend on that gas pipeline and we cannot wait till it is built," Aliyev noted. That is why Azerbaijan attaches great significance to the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline project.

"That project is not a myth and it does not require the solution of global problems," Aliyev said. "It just takes modernization of the existent gas pipelines and construction of a small segment of the pipe. It is most important to have first products from the Shakh-Deniz field by the end of 2002." (Interfax)

Kazakhstan Finds New Caspian Oil, Iran Ready to Start Caspian Projects
May 10, 2000

Kazakhstan's prime minister says that test drilling by an international consortium in Kazakhstan's section of the Caspian Sea has discovered a huge oil deposit.

Kasymjomart Tokayev said exploration by the Offshore Kazakhstan International Operating Company revealed major oil deposits at the East Kashagan site. Seismic research shows the site may be one of the largest undiscovered oil deposits in the world. Tokayev said it is still too early to comment on initial reports that the site has 4,000 million tons of oil.

Meanwhile, Iran's parliament today opened the door for the country's oil ministry to conclude contracts to drill for oil in Iran's section of the Caspian Sea. Iran has long favored defining the legal status of the Caspian Sea before any of the littoral states begins exploration for oil or natural gas. However, all the littoral states except Iran began exploration several years ago. (RFE/RL - AFP - RTR)

Turkish Bank To Support Turkmen Energy Industry With $50 Million
May 11, 2000

Eximbank of Turkey is going to lend Turkmenistan $50 million for supporting the Turkmen power system.

The bank will sign a corresponding agreement with the State Foreign Economic Activity Bank of Turkmenistan later in May, a Turkmen Energy and Industry Ministry official told Interfax on Thursday.

The $50 million will be invested in improving the reliability of the Turkmen energy system. Turkish Eltem Elektric Tesisat Muhendislik Ticaret A.S. will carry out projects worth a total of $59 million in this field. (Interfax)

(Also, see article of RFE/RL's Michael Lelyveld at the bottom of Turkmen Report)

Earthquake Hits Central Asia
May 13, 2000

An earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale jolted parts of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan early today.

There are no reports of casualties yet from the quake which struck at dawn.

The Pakistani seismological department says the quake measured 5.8 on the Richter scale with the epicenter located 200 kilometers northwest of Peshawar in the Hindukush range in northeastern Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has no seismological facilities.

A spokesman for Afghan opposition forces which control some northern districts say they do not know of any casualties.

The Bakhtar Information Agency of the ruling Taliban militia, which controls 90 percent of Afghanistan, also reports no loss of life.

Residents of the Uzbek capital Tashkent rushed into the streets after the quake sent books and tableware falling from shelves. (RFE/RL - AFP - RTR - Itar-Tass)

Kyrgyz Police Release Arrested Activists
May 13, 2000

A spokesman for the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights said today authorities last night on orders from the Secretary of the country's Security Council, Bolot Januzakov, released all human rights activists who had been arrested earlier in the day at a meeting organized by the Bishkek office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Yesterday, Bishkek police detained a group of 30 demonstrators and arrested at least six of them on charges of disturbing public order and participating in an unsanctioned meeting.

Some 100 people have been holding daily demonstrations in Bishkek since March 15 to demand the nullification of some of the results of parliamentary elections held earlier this year.

The Kyrgyz authorities and the opposition are expected to meet at a roundtable talks in Bishkek on June 2 and 3, Kyrgyz State Secretary Naken Kasiyev said at a news conference on May 11.

Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, representatives of the Cabinet, opposition parties and non-governmental organizations will take part in the roundtable meeting. The OSCE will take an active part in the dialogue as well, he said.

The sides will discuss the outcome of the parliamentary election and preparations for the December 2000 presidential election. (RFE/RL)

Security Council Supports Peace Office In Tajikistan
May 13, 2000

The United Nations Security Council has backed proposals to create a new office to consolidate peace and promote democracy in Tajikistan.

The council supported the idea at a meeting yesterday to mark Monday's official end of the U.N. military observer mission in Tajikistan.

The observers are withdrawing following Tajikistan's parliamentary election earlier this year, the first such vote since the country's civil war ended with 1997 peace accords.

In addition to supporting a peace-building office, the Security Council called on the international community to provide aid for Tajikistan's social and economic development.

Council members praised the political will of Tajik leaders, as well as the support of countries such as Russia and Iran, in securing the end of the five-year civil war. (RFE/RL - AP)

35 Women Activists Arrested In Azerbaijan; Government Suspends Magazine; Police Arrest 9 Protesters
May 10, 2000

Azerbaijani government has stepped up attacks on the opposition and free media.

About 60 women activists, mainly opposition members, marched through Baku on May 10, protesting alleged violations of women's rights, and the opposition has said 35 marchers were arrested.

The demonstrators called for the dismissal of President Heydar Aliyev, in addition to demanding "land, work and bread," one of the march organizers, singer Flora Kerimova, told Interfax.

The procession had been timed to coincide with the birthday of Aliyev, who turned 77 on Wednesday, she said.

The women marched through the city, banging spoons on saucepans, picketed the central office of the New Azerbaijan party led by Aliyev, and then proceeded on to the parliament building.

A day earlier, Azerbaijan's government suspended a political magazine, accusing it of a financial offense, but the editor said politics were behind the suspension.

Editor Elmar Guseinov said tax inspectors had checked Monitor Weekly on three occasions this year and that each audit had forced the magazine to be suspended.

He said sharp criticism of the Azerbaijani leadership in some of the articles had been the true reason for the suspension.

On May 8, the Azerbaijani police detained nine opposition activists picketing the national prosecution service building in the center of the Azerbaijani capital.

The protesters demanded the immediate release of opposition figures, among them Former Prime Minister Panakh Husseinov, former State Secretary Arif Gadzhiyev and Unity party chairman Vagif Hajbeili, arrested as the police broke up a rally on April 29.

Nearly 50 people are kept under arrest, opposition says. Arrests of rally organizers are continuing. (Interfax)


Dispute Over Gas Endangers Turkmenistan's Plans

by Michael Lelyveld, RFE/RL

May 12, 2000

A dispute with Iran over gas sales has burst out into the open this week, endangering Turkmenistan's plans to boost its exports this year.

On Thursday, the official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted informed sources as saying that the country has cut gas imports from Turkmenistan by half since April 1 following a disagreement over pricing.

The account is partially at odds with a report by the Reuters news agency, which said that a deal to nearly triple Turkmen commitments of gas to Iran is also at risk because of doubts that Ashgabat has adequate supplies.

According to Reuters, Iranian officials claim that Turkmenistan's exports through a two-year-old pipeline have dropped to only 1,000 million cubic meters per year, far less than an agreement to ship up to 5 billion cubic meters annually. Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov has been publicizing plans to increase deliveries to 13,000 million cubic meters this year.

But Iranian officials complain that Turkmenistan does not have enough gas at its Korpedzhe gas field and that other supplies are not connected to the 200-kilometer line that runs to Kord-Kuy in Iran. The Reuters report also cites pricing as an issue, although it stresses the inadequacy of supplies. In any case, Iran is concerned that it is not being compensated for its 195-million-dollar investment in the line, which was opened in December 1997.

The payback period, which was to have lasted two years, is now likely to be slower because of the lower volumes of gas. The news also means that Turkmenistan is earning no cash for its exports to Iran.

But the real source of the dispute is likely to be competition with Russia and Niyazov's increasingly desperate efforts to spark interest in Turkmenistan's gas exports.

While courting Iran, Niyazov has also been promoting a huge increase in gas sales to Russia, hoping to close a deal in time for President Vladimir Putin's expected visit to Ashgabat this month. Niyazov wants to raise the current contract commitments to Russia from 20,000 million cubic meters to 50,000 million cubic meters per year. But as with Iran, the sticking point with Russia has been the price.

Russia actually needs gas because of a domestic shortage due to lack of investment and high export commitments to Europe. But until now, it has only paid 36 dollars per thousand cubic meters, and only 40 percent in cash. Niyazov has asked for up to 46 dollars. Iran has only offered 28 dollars, making the bargaining complex.

Even if Russia succeeds in continuing to pay only 36 dollars per thousand cubic meters, the deal may put pressure on Iran to pay more than 28 dollars at a time when Turkmenistan still owes Tehran for building the Korpedzhe pipeline.

At the same time, Niyazov has been discouraging offers from a U.S.-backed consortium to build a Trans-Caspian pipeline to Turkey. This week, the U.S. government's representative on the Caspian, John Wolf, criticized the lack of progress on the pipeline, saying, "Delay in itself is rapidly becoming an answer."

The deal has been plagued by Azerbaijan's demands for half of the line's capacity and Niyazov's concerns that the terms are not attractive enough. By negotiating with Iran and Russia, Niyazov has been sending signals that he can sell his gas elsewhere. The row with Iran can only be a blow to such a strategy.

But there are suggestions that Iran may have other reasons to be angry. Niyazov has also been promoting a link between Turkmenistan's huge Dauletabad gas field and the Iranian city of Masshad with a short 60-kilometer line from Serakhs.

Dauletabad, on the Iranian border, is the same field that Niyazov has tried to use for a pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistan. A U.S.-backed plan for the line was cancelled due to concerns about terrorism in Afghanistan. That project was planned to carry 20,000 million cubic meters of gas per year.

But industry sources say that Russia now has its eye on Dauletabad, which was originally developed with Soviet investment. A deal with Putin to increase deliveries to Russia could bring Gazprom to Dauletabad, said one industry expert, who asked not to be identified. The field is still connected to the old Soviet pipeline network.

It is not clear how far the talks went between Turkmenistan and Iran over a Dauletabad link. But a connection could provide substantial amounts of gas to Iran's northern cities, certainly far more than the Korpedzhe field.

If Russia succeeds in tapping Dauletabad, Iran is likely to see Niyazov as playing too many games. Iran's decision to cut its imports may be a punishment for Niyazov's tactics rather than a concern that Turkmenistan does not have enough gas.