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Turkmen Report: August 26, 2000

26 August 2000
Turkmen President Will Not Attend UN Millennium Summit
August 25, 2000

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov says he will be unable to attend the UN General Assembly summit in New York next month.

Niyazov told farm workers in the Mary region that his doctors have advised him to cancel the trip.

The gathering from September 6 to 8 - known as the Millennium Summit - will focus on the role of the UN in the 21st century. (RFE/RL)

Niyazov's Address To UN Millennium Assembly - "Supreme Wisdom"
August 20, 2000

Turkmen State News Service carried the following report on August 18:

"On 18th August 2000 all of us, the entire people of Turkmenistan, became in a certain respect different. On that day, which had existed in our souls at the level of feelings and sentiments, was as if by a magic force uplifted to a supreme form of wisdom, wisdom shining like a sun that never sets over the country, granting us the light of understanding, the light of good deeds addressed to the world.

Thus have our compatriots received the historic speech by [Turkmen President] Saparmurat Turkmenbashi Niyazov [entitled "Turkmens, Turkmenistan and the World: The Millennium and the 21st Century, the Link of Times and Civilizations"] published in [Turkmen] newspapers today in the run-up to the UN Millennium Assembly [to meet in September].

The goal itself is clear, but there is no easy way to approach it. As Saparmurat Turkmenbashi points out, first and foremost it is necessary to reject the practice of imposing single standards, of political arm-twisting directed against those who refuse to recognize the supremacy of any single philosophy of building the world, against those who refuse to accept the so-called 'humanitarian interventions' which under the pretext of defending human rights trample upon the rights of entire peoples.

'We are convinced that the progress of mankind is determined not by the dictate of a certain model nor by unification of norms and principles of life, but by a combination of ideas and philosophies,' the Turkmen leader says.

Immutable mutual understanding and mutual respect, combined with a multiplicity of national characteristics is the only model that can be considered universal. As the President says, conflicts which have become engrained due to the unjust distribution of resources and incompatibility of the standards of living must not be transferred to the level of ethnic or religious confrontation. Economic problems must not be raised to the ranks of political ones.

'The roots of evil,' the Turkmen leader asserts, 'lie not in any fatal incompatibility of the world views and values of West and East, but in the discriminatory methods of distributing wealth, technologies and possibilities.'

The main task of the Millennium Assembly is therefore to seek the optimum form for collective efforts to overcome inequalities on the planet, while at the same time preserving peoples' right to sovereignty and freedom of choice."

Turkmen State News Service said on August 19 that "the leading international news agencies reacted instantly to the publication of the article by the [Turkmen President]. The very fact that this information was carried by ITAR-TASS (Russia), Turkish TV, the Anatolian News Agency (Turkey), IRNA (Iran), Xinhua (China), the BBC (Great Britain), RIA Novosti (Russia), the Pakistan Press Network and others, is evidence not only of their profound interest in events in this unique and fast-developing Central Asian country, but also of the international community's growing respect for the views and ideas of the Turkmen state leader. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen State News Service)

Niyazov Tours The Country, Calls For Top Officials To Groom Successors
August 24, 2000

Turkmen TV has reported that while on a working visit in southern Mary and eastern Lebap regions, Turkmen president Saparmurat Niyazov spoke about his view of public administration and the transfer of power vested in the public office:

"One of our most vulnerable points is that sometimes everything, say in state management or in managing a production sector, everything depends on a single person and there is a risk that everything could collapse if something happened to this person. The entire sector or even the state as a whole may suffer as a result. This is very bad thing. To avoid such a situation, we have to bring up young men capable of carrying on the work further. The heads of branches and sectors, members of the Cabinet of Ministers, each of them should train two or three successors. However, certain leaders fear that their trainees could take over their positions at any moment. This is very bad psychology inherited from the Soviet times," the Turkmen leader said.

While visiting the Tejen region, Niyazov also said that there are no political prisoners in Turkmenistan, and nobody is being persecuted on the basis of political or religious beliefs. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen TV Channel 1, RFE/RL)

Turkmens Constructing "Special Building" On Border With Kazakhstan
August 24, 2000

According to a report carried by Turkmen TV, "a special construction unit of the Turkmennebit [Turkmen Oil] state concern has started constructing a special building for border guards on the Turkmen-Kazakh border 150 km of the town of Kizyl-Kaya of [western] Turkmenbashi District.

The building will be 41-meter long and 12-meter wide. Its construction will be completed by the 9th anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence [27th October]. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen TV Channel 1)

Turkmenistan Complains About Russian Report on Central Asian Fighting
August 23, 2000

Turkmenistan today filed a complaint with the Russian ambassador over a report by the Russian news agency Interfax alleging Islamic militants are coming from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan via Turkmenistan.

Yesterday's Interfax report cites Russian military sources as saying militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are infiltrating from Afghanistan by two routes. One of those routes, according to the report, is from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan via Turkmenistan. The report also said there are 600 militants ready to break into Uzbekistan from Afghanistan through Turkmenistan.

The Turkmen government is demanding Interfax either provide concrete examples of these charges and reveal who the military sources are, or carry a retraction.

The Turkmen government denies any involvement in the fighting which is happening between the militants and government troops in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. (RFE/RL)

Earthquake Shakes Ashgabat, No Casualties Or Serious Damage
August 23, 2000

An earthquake measuring 3.5 points on the Richter scale was registered in Ashgabat at 21:55 local time yesterday.

There were no casualties or serious damage.

The epicenter of the earthquake was located 100 km away from Ashgabat on the territory of Iran, the Turkmen Institute for Seismology Research told Interfax today.

The earthquake measured 4 points in the village of Karakala (200 km west of Ashgabat). (Interfax)

Human Rights Group Claims Turkmen Protest Stopped by Police
August 22, 2000

The Moscow-based Information Center for Human Rights in Central Asia has released a statement, saying a protest of some 200 women was broken up by police on the outskirts of the Turkmen capital Ashgabat.

The statement says the women, all from the village of Keshi, were demanding better housing and less state spending on grandiose government buildings. The women said some of the new government buildings are located on areas where housing for citizens once stood, and no replacement housing has been constructed.

Police stopped the protesters from reaching the center of Ashgabat where the women planned to demand a meeting with President Saparmurat Niyazov.

The human rights group said the event happened on August 10. Information is often difficult to obtain from Turkmenistan where authorities exert strict control over the media and the society. (RFE/RL)

Turkmenistan And Uzbekistan Discuss Border Issues
August 21, 2000

According to Turkmen State News Service, an Uzbek delegation visited Ashgabat for two-day talks on settling "the debts of Uzbek enterprises which operate using Turkmen water-intake facilities on Amudarya River." Following the talks, Uzbek ambassador in Ashgabat Abdurashid Kadyrov said that the two sides "completely settled" the issue.

The Ambassador also addressed the issue of delimitation of the Turkmen-Uzbek border, saying that "a group of topographers has been determining its exact coordinates directly on the border."

The agreement on delimitation should be signed during the Uzbek President Islam Karimov's forthcoming visit in Ashgabat in September. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen State News Service)

U.S. Ambassador Upbeat About Turkmen-American Relations
August 20, 2000

Under the headline "Steven Mann: 'I have the best impressions of Turkmenistan,'" Turkmen newspaper Neitralnyi Turkmenistan recently published an interview with the U.S. ambassador in Ashgabat.

Responding to the journalist's request to "describe the current level of Turkmen-American relations," Ambassador Mann said, "I am touched by the cordial atmosphere which accompanies our meetings with [the Turkmen president] Saparmurat Niyazov and members of the Turkmen government. There is high potential for our relations. The joint fight against drug trafficking may serve as an example of positive cooperation between our countries. The task for all of us next year will be to determine ways for further cooperation, particularly in those areas where our approaches still differ to a certain extent. President Bill Clinton's special advisor on the CIS countries, Ambassador Stephen Sestanovich, is to visit [the Turkmen capital] Ashgabat next week and I hope a serious and fruitful exchange of views will take place."

Asked to list priorities and prospects in Turkmen-American trade and economic cooperation, Ambassador Mann mentioned tourism as a promising area of exchange and then addressed U.S.-Turkmen economic relations: "I hope that our relations in the agro-industrial complex can be stepped up. The output of the John Deer, Case and Caterpillar companies have performed well in Turkmenistan and as far as I know, these companies plan to expand their presence on the Turkmen market. The Boeing company has been cooperating with your country for a long time, and I hope this work will continue in future. Concerning the oil and gas sector, I expect that ExxonMobil, Halliburton, Western Geophysical and Bertling will expand their operations in Turkmenistan." (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - "Neitralnyi Turkmenistan" newspaper)

U.S. Envoy In The Caspian Region Visits Turkey For Gas Talks
August 26, 2000

John Wolf, the U.S. presidential envoy in the Caspian Sea region, met yesterday with Turkish officials in Ankara to discuss prospects for several gas pipeline projects in the region, Turkish NTV reported.

During a joint press conference with Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Cemhur Ersumer, Wolf addressed the future of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and the trans-Caspian pipelines:

"I thought there was important news in the newspaper this morning about Turkey's intention to start moving forward with the basic engineering for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. This is a very important first step in realizing the pipeline by 2004. We've talked about the importance of having another meeting very shortly of the potential investors in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, and we reminded ourselves of the commitments by all of the leaders last November that Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan should be a pipeline that serves the region and not just a small group of companies. We are confident there will be a regional pipeline, and we are confident that it will move forward now towards an early construction.

We also did talk about gas. I welcome the decision by President Sezer, Prime Minister Ecevit, and the Energy Minister to move forward with Turkey's efforts to secure gas diversity, that is, diversity of supply. And I welcome the word that the talks are moving forward with Azerbaijan, and I reaffirm that we are ready to work with Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, plus Turkmenistan whenever it is ready, to realize the East-West energy corridor on which we are working.

I also briefed the Minister [Ersumer] on my upcoming trip to Kazakhstan. I will be there with [the U.S.] Secretary of Energy Richardson. Kazakhstan is an essential part of the East-West energy corridor and we also talked about things that we could do to bring Kazakhstan even more into the discussion. So, progress, but more work to be done," U.S. envoy in the Caspian region said at the joint press conference in Ankara.

During the question-and-answer part of the press conference, the Turkish Energy Minister Cemhur Ersumer was asked whether there was cooperation between the sides in transferring Iranian gas to Turkey. He replied that "in recent days, Turkish Botash gas company and Iran signed an agreement. Iran pledged to export natural gas to Turkey starting July 2001."

The minister was then asked if he had changed his view on importing Turkmen gas to Turkey. His response was "no." "That was a preliminary plan that we would import Turkmen gas via the Caspian to Turkey. But we now know that Azerbaijan has discovered new sources of gas, and that Baku wants to participate in the trans-Caspian gas project. We are holding parallel talks with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. There is no problem between them," Ersemer said. (RFE/RL - NTV Turkish Television)

Kazakhstan Committed To Baku-Ceyhan Oil Exports - Shevardnadze
August 21, 2000

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has confirmed his nation's commitment to export a minimum of 20 million tons of oil a year on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said today in a national radio address.

Shevardnadze discussed the issue with Nazarbayev during the CIS summit meeting in Yalta.

Kazakhstan is also prepared to raise the amount of oil it exports via Georgia's railroads to 10 million tons a year. Shevardnadze said volumes through Georgia needed to be increased due to the new oil finds in Kazakhstan. He said the increased traffic would boost Georgian state revenues.

Kazakhstan is poised to build a new terminal on the Black Sea and create its own fleet of tankers.

Georgia's railroads will transport 12 million tons of oil this year, he said. An additional 10 million tons of oil from Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan will triple Georgia's railroad revenues, he said.

Shevardnadze also met in Yalta with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev. They discussed the project to build the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. Shevardnadze said that "the final timetable for building Baku-Ceyhan and other issues may be settled during the Millennium summit in New York in September." (Interfax)

Turkmen President Calls For Increased UN Role In Guarding Pipelines
August 25, 2000

In an article pegged to next month's UN Millennium Summit in New York, Saparmurat Niyazov called for the UN to play a greater role in mediating a solution to the war in Afghanistan, determining the international status of the Caspian Sea, and providing for the safe functioning of international oil and gas pipelines, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 24 August. The "Wall Street Journal" reported on 18 August that Niyazov is now again favoring the U.S.-backed Trans-Caspian pipeline route. That pipeline would cross the territory of Azerbaijan and Georgia. Both those countries belong to the GUUAM grouping, whose members have discussed creating their own security force to guard the planned Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline. (RFE/RL)

Turkmenistan's Cotton Output Seen At 1.3 Million Tons In 2000
August 25, 2000

The cotton harvest has started in Turkmenistan with an annual output for 2000 forecast at 1.3 million tons, a representative of state cotton firm Turkmenpagta said yesterday.

He said the harvest had started in the south of the country, which has sown 570,000 hectares to cotton this year.

"A large part of this output will be fine-fiber cotton," the official told Reuters.

The forecast is lower than the 1.5 million tons Turkmenistan had planned to produce this year. No reason was given for the lower harvest volume. Last year the country produced 1.3 million tons of cotton from 550,000 hectares of land. About 240,000 farmers are engaged in cotton farming in the country of five million people.

An agriculture ministry official said that Turkmenistan had been set a 2001 target of 1.5 million tons of raw cotton and 2.0 million tons of food grains. He said the goals had been set by a resolution signed by President Saparmurat Niyazov.

According to Interfax, Turkmenistan is planning to purchase 2 million tons of grain and 1.5 million tons of cotton from local farmers next year.

This year, Turkmen farmers have sold the government 1.7 million tons of grain and about 1.3 million tons of cotton, the presidential office has told Interfax.

The government has purchased 760 cotton harvester combines, in particular from U.S. companies John Deere and Case, bringing the number of such combines in the country to nearly 1,000. The state also foots one half of the costs of buying machinery, seeds, fertilizers and herbicides. (Reuters, Interfax)

Merhav Officials Discuss Turkmen Refinery Reconstruction
August 22, 2000

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov met today with the head of Israel's Merhav, Iosif Maiman, to discuss progress in the Turkmenbashi Oil Refinery reconstruction.

Merhav, the Turkmen government's official representative, completed a project to install the hydrofining and catalytic reforming in February.

Nine foreign companies are engaged in modernizing the refinery, where four other projects are under way.

Next year an Iranian engineering firm and France's Technip will launch a catalytic cracker for production of lubricants and later a polypropylene plant. The reconstruction projects are worth a total of $1 billion.

Under the national plan for the oil and gas sector, the refinery will process 5 million tons of oil in 2005 and 9 million tons five years after that. (Interfax)

President Forgives Carpet Manufacturer Its Debts
August 22, 2000

The Turkmenkhaly (Tyrkmenkovyor) association of manufacturers has been transformed into a joint-stock company and had all its debts forgiven by President Saparmurat Niyazov.

Carpet making is "more than an industry" for the country, as it contains the nation's soul, the Turkmens' demonstrated faithfulness to the cultural heritage of their ancestors," the president said yesterday after a meeting with the workers of the association.

Niyazov also said that "reviving the glory of carpet making is one of the state's priorities." In this connection, it was declared that centers for sales of Turkmen carpets would be opened in Great Britain, Germany and Italy. (Interfax)

Winners Of First Stage Of Turkmen Polyethylene Plant Tender Announced
August 21, 2000

The first phase of the tender to build a plant in Turkmenistan producing polyethylene out of natural and associated gas has been won by Samsung-Mensel, Marubeni-JGC, Linda (Germany) and Mitsui (Japan), the Turkmen State News Service reported.

"In early August representatives of the bidders were invited to Turkmenistan to take part in the discussion of alternative sites for the plant. Foreign specialists visited the (eastern) Seidi Oil refinery and the deposits in the Gazachak fields, the most acceptable facilities for the project. The design capacity of the plant is 200,000 tons," the report said. It said the payback period was 3-4 years. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen State News Service)

Turkmen Refinery Launches Primary Refining Unit
August 21, 2000

Turkmenistan's Turkmenbashi Oil Refinery has started up operation of the primary refining unit following a modernization project.

The unit has capacity to refine 3 million tons of crude a year, 20% higher than previously, the Ministry of the Oil and Gas Industry told Interfax.

The refinery exceeded production targets for a number of products in the first seven months of the year, including an extra 14,500 tons of kerosene, 2,300 tons of bitumen and 40,000 tons of gasoline. (Interfax)

Russia Asks For More Turkmen Gas, But Ashgabat Balks
August 20, 2000

Russia's Gazprom gas company requested the Turkmen president to boost gas export to Russia, Itar-Tass learned today from the Turkmen government sources.

The message, sent by Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev, contains an application for purchasing additional 8 billion cubic meters of gas under an agreement on export of 20 billion cubic meters of gas in 2000.

The agreement was already fulfilled in the volume of 15.3 billion cubic meters by the Turkmenneftegaz state-owned trading corporation. Taking into account the rate of gas transportation - 80-100 million cubic meters per day, the contract (operating since the start of the year) will be filled by mid-October, the state corporation reported.

The Gazprom message contains a proposal to sign a long-term contract for 2001-2015 to deliver 30 billion cubic meters of gas annually.

However, Turkmenistan is dissatisfied with the price proposed by Gazprom in the application for boosting gas deliveries. "We do not intend to trade at a loss," Turkmen government officials told Itar-Tass, commenting on the message by head of the Russian company Vyakhirev to the Turkmen president.

A government official emphasized that the principle of mutual advantage of gas purchase-sale was recognized by Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Ashgabat last May.

The same principle is shared by President Saparmurat Niyazov. "Turkmenistan has a firm intention to boost foreign relations in the oil and gas market, but we shall do this precisely determining parameters of profitability and efficiency for us," the president stressed. (Itar-Tass)

British Envoy Upbeat About Turkmen-British Economic Relations
August 20, 2000

Turkmen newspaper Neitralnyi Turkmenistan published an interview on June 17 with the ambassador of Great Britain in Turkmenistan Fraser Andrew Wilson.

Asked about Turkmen-British relations, the Ambassador said: "Our trade and economic relations are developing at a very good pace. The most obvious example is the successful operation of the British Monument and Royal-Dutch Shell oil companies (the latter also involves Dutch capital) in Turkmenistan. However, there is huge unused cooperation potential and I hope that soon we will set up a Turkmen-British trade and industrial council that will allow to raise to the appropriate level our cooperation in other economic fields.

Apart from this, I want to note our cooperation in teaching and popularizing English. I was very pleased to learn about your government's decision, at the president's initiative, to make English the third most used language in Turkmenistan along with Turkmen and Russian."

Ambassador Wilson further mentioned that several Turkmen students are granted scholarships to study at British universities every year and suggested that cultural exchanges should be further developed.

He was then asked in what direction the Turkmen-British cooperation will develop in the future.

"In the foreseeable future, apparently, we will continue to cooperate in the oil and gas sector, which is developing most dynamically. However, I would also expect development of ties in the field of high technology, in particular, modern telecommunications equipment, as Britain is one of the world leaders in this sphere. I can name another kind of business in which the British have been leading from the start - consulting services. British consulting specialists have a very high reputation and they have taken part in preparatory work under the project to reconstruct the sea port of Turkmenbashi. Thus there is great potential concerning development of economic ties," the Ambassador replied. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Neitralnyi Turkmenistan newspaper)

Russia's IM Vows To Work More Closely With Central Asia
August 25, 2000

Russia's Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo today vowed to work more closely with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to counter religious terrorism and extremism in Central Asia.

Rushailo made the comments after meeting in Dushanbe with his Tajik counterpart Khumdin Sharipov. Rushailo arrived in Tajikistan yesterday for talks on how to defeat Islamic separatists attempting to establish an independent state in Central Asia.

Kazakhstan says its southern borders are being reinforced because of clashes between Islamic separatists and Uzbek troops in an area of Uzbekistan close to the Kazakh border.

The Kyrgyz defense ministry says a group of about 10 militants attacked government troops last night in the Batken district near the Kum-Bel and Tuz-Bel passes in southern Kyrgyzstan. The ministry said the militants were forced to retreat and there were no casualties on the government side. (RFE/RL)

CPJ Disturbed by Azeri Press Arrests; Independent Media Goes On Strike
August 25, 2000

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, known as the CPJ, says it fears that Azerbaijan is mounting a campaign to stifle independent journalism in Azerbaijan as November 5 parliamentary elections near.

CPJ issued a statement today saying that recent arrests of two Azeri journalists, the banning of an independent newspaper, and other incidents are causes for concern.

Yesterday, Azerbaijan's main independent media organizations, including three news agencies, 24 newspapers, one magazine and five press associations, went on strike to protest the arrest of Rauf Arifoglu, an editor of the opposition daily Yeni Musavat accused of taking part in a hijacking attempt last week.

Etibar Djebrayiloglu, a special correspondent for the newspaper, was also arrested.

The Musavat party denied any involvement in the hijacking which was attempted by a party member. He demanded changes to the country's parliamentary election laws and also urged President Heydar Aliyev to publish a letter written to him by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. (RFE/RL)

Thousands Attend Memorial For Azerbaijan's Former President
August 23, 2000

Azerbaijan's first democratically elected president was buried today in Baku with full state honors.

Abulfaz Elcibey died yesterday in Turkey of prostate cancer. He played a key role in securing Azerbaijan's independence from the Soviet Union. He served as president from 1992 until 1993, when he was overthrown in a military coup and replaced by current President Heidar Aliyev.

RFE/RL's correspondent in Baku reports that more than 10,000 people at the memorial service started chanting against Aliyev when he entered the building to pay his respects.

Aliyev left quickly and faced further taunts from a crowd of more than 50,000 outside. Mourners later shouted down Parliament Speaker Aleskerov when he attempted to speak. (RFE/RL)

Uzbekistan Says It Has No Political Prisoners
August 24, 2000

Uzbekistan's Interior Ministry released a report today showing that none of prisoners in Uzbek jails are there for political activities.

The report was published by the state-owned newspaper Pravda Vostoka. The Interior Ministry's report said prisons are overcrowded with 47 prisons holding over 63,000 people instead of the approximately 56,000 for which they were designed. However, the report said there is not a single political prisoner left in the country.

International human rights organizations have regularly blasted Uzbekistan for its poor human rights record and repression of opposition parties, both secular and religious.

The report on prisons published today is the first since Uzbekistan became independent in 1991. (RFE/RL)

IHF Protests At Action Against Kyrgyz Newspaper
August 23, 2000

A human rights organization, the International Helsinki Federation, has written to Kyrgyzstan's president Askar Akayev to protest against recent legal action against an independent newspaper.

The IHF director, Aaron Rhodes, said a criminal case was opened against the "Delo No" newspaper after it published a critical article regarding the recent trial of opposition leader Felix Kulov and three others. Kulov was acquitted of charges of abuse of office during his term as Minister of National Security in 1997-98. The others were convicted.

The IHF said that recently the newspaper's Chief Editor, Viktor Zapolski, his deputy, Svetlana Krasilnikova, and the author of the article, Vadim Nochevnik, were questioned by the police for several hours without the presence of their attorney. Later, a criminal case was opened against Nochevnik.

The IHF said it was disturbed by recent harassment of independent journalists and media in Kyrgyzstan. (RFE/RL)

Kazakh Authorities Criticize Citizens Who Applied For Political Refuge
August 22, 2000

Kazakh Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov has criticized the Kazakh citizens who have applied for political refuge to Norway and Denmark.

Twenty-two Kazakh citizens applied to the two countries for political refuge while travelling in Scandinavia in July. The Kazakh special services have promised not to persecute them if they return to Kazakhstan.

Under the cover of "political reasons," these people are trying to "use loopholes in the laws of some European countries" to "win definite financial privileges" for themselves, Idrisov told Interfax yesterday in Astana.

Under the Kazakh constitution, citizens are free to choose their place of residence and can freely leave and enter the country, he said. "Everyone is free to choose where they want to live," he said.

"I am far from asserting that Kazakhstan is an ideal democratic state. But we are making progress in this area," Idrisov said. He said he doubts that the Scandinavian countries will grant political refuge to the Kazakh citizens. (Interfax)

Kyrgyz Presidential Candidates Blame Authorities For Violating Election Law
August 21, 2000

Eight of Kyrgyzstan's presidential candidates have criticized the authorities for violating the rules of conducting the election campaign in the presidential elections set for October 29.

They said at a joint press conference today in Bishkek that the district, state and regional authorities are hampering the work of their representatives, who are collecting signatures and building up support for them.

Member of parliament and presidential candidate Dooronbek Sadyrbayev said that while collecting signatures, his representative was beaten by the staff of the local administration. He said he blames the state mass media for "launching a dirty campaign of slanders against many presidential candidates and telling the voters that they should cast their votes for the current president."

Another presidential candidate, Yuruslan Toichubekov, said that instead of organizing "honest and fair presidential elections," Prime Minister Amangeldy Muraliyev "has in fact become the chief of President Askar Akayev's campaign staff, and the ministers are also busy organizing the current president's re-election campaign."

The presidential candidates said that the mandatory exam in the Kyrgyz language introduced for presidential candidates this year "is humiliating for the candidates" and is a way of barring the opposition from the elections.

Leader of the Party for the Unfortunate Melis Eshemkanov said that "head of the Dignity opposition party Felix Kulov will hardly pass this exam."

All of the presidential candidates who took part in the press conference said that Akayev, as the guarantor of the constitution, must "do everything possible to ensure that the elections are held in accordance with the constitution." (Interfax)

Central Asian Presidents Discuss Threat From Islamic Militants
August 20, 2000

Central Asian leaders have ended their talks in Bishkek today on how to deal with Islamic militants in the region.

They adopted a joint declaration to fight international terrorism and asked Russia to join the Tashkent agreement on common efforts against international terrorism, religious extremism and organized crime.

They agreed to appeal to the United Nations Security council to pay more attention to the security problems in Central Asia and also announced that they are against preventive air strikes on military bases of other independent states.

The talks included Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Uzbek President Islam Karimov and Tajik President Emomali Rahmonov. Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov also is attending.

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is fighting government troops in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan since earlier this month. Tajikistan denies the militants are based on its territory.

Kyrgyz border guards and militants clashed on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border last night in Osh Province. (RFE/RL)

Two Critics of Turkmenistan's Niyazov in Prison
by Bruce Pannier, RFE/RL

August 25, 2000

The price for speaking one's mind can be high in Turkmenistan. Two examples are Nurberdy Nurmammedov and Pirimguly Tangrikuliev. Both are now in prison, convicted of criminal acts. Turkmen courts sentenced Nurmammedov to five years for "hooliganism with intent to kill," and Tangrikuliev received eight years for misappropriating state funds and property.

The Moscow-based Memorial Rights Defense Center, which has been following both cases, said recently that the two men have recently been secretly moved to new prisons. Vitaly Ponomarev, the director of Memorial's Information Center on Human Rights in Central Asia, said yesterday that both are behind bars simply because of their political opposition.

"[We] believe that Pirimguly Tangrikuliev and Nurberdy Nurmammedov are being held in Turkmen prisons for political reasons and that the charges against them are fabricated," Ponomarev ascertained.

Nurmammedov, 57 years old, helped establish Turkmenistan's opposition Agzybirlik Party in 1989. But no party except the People's Democratic Party - President Saparmurat Niyazov's party - has ever been officially registered in the country's brief history. Nurmammedov is now one of the few political opponents of Niyazov - known officially since 1994 as Turkmenbashi [that is, leader of all Turkmen] - still in the country. Most fled the government's repressive policies in the early 1990s.

Nurmammedov sometimes made remarks critical of the Turkmenbashi to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service. In one interview late last year, he criticized both the country's 1999 parliamentary elections and the decision to make Niyazov president for life. He was arrested about a week later. In late February of this year, a court found Nurmammedov guilty and sent him to prison.

According to Memorial, Nurmammedov has been moved from one prison to another. He has often spent days in solitary confinement, while his relatives were turned away when they tried to bring him food and medicine. In late June, after he was transferred to [solitary confinement] at Bezmeine - a maximum security prison - Nurmammedov began a hunger strike. Memorial reported the strike and RFE/RL's Turkmen Service broadcast the news.

But two weeks ago (August 12), Nurmammedov seemed to vanish. Memorial says witnesses saw him taken from his barracks on a stretcher, accompanied by a doctor. His relatives have not heard from him since and Turkmen officials have provided the family with no information. But Memorial says Nurmammedov was taken to Turkmenbashi prison, which it describes as having "an infamous reputation."

Until recently, Pirimguly Tangrikuliev was also imprisoned in Turkmenbashi prison. Tangrikuliev, who is over 60 years old, had spoken out against Niyazov as well, but in a different manner than Nurmammedov. Two years ago, Turkmenbashi called on the people to write him personally if they had any knowledge of corrupt officials and their practices. Tangrikuliev, a dentist, did so - complaining about corruption and inefficiency in the country's health-care system.

Tangrikuliev had also planned to try to register a political party for last year's parliamentary elections. He went to the U.S. Embassy for information, and also met with officials at the Ashgabat office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

By early June 1999, Tangrikuliev was in police custody. Turkmen authorities claimed he had received government-subsidized medicines for distribution and then sold them at exorbitant prices.

According to Memorial, a month ago (July 24), Tangrikuliev was moved from Turkmenbashi prison 200 kilometers to the east, to the prison colony in Kyzylkaya. The prison is near an abandoned uranium mine.

President Niyazov likes to say his country is traveling its own, unique, path toward democracy. But if the examples of Tangrikuliev and Nurmammedov are any indication, that path does not include the right to criticize the policies of Turkmenbashi.

Brighter Outlook For U.S.-Backed Caspian Pipelines
by Michael Lelyveld, RFE/RL

August 24, 2000

The past week has brought good news for two Caspian pipeline projects that are backed by the United States, but many questions remain unresolved.

On Monday [August 21], the outlook brightened for the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline after Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze reported a pledge by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to provide 20 million tons of oil for the line annually. Kazakhstan is also said to be planning to increase its rail shipments of oil through Georgia by 10 million tons.

According to Shevardnadze, Nazarbayev made the commitments during a meeting at the informal CIS summit in Yalta last Friday [August 18]. The report coincided with a new forecast by Kazakh Economy Minister Zhaksybek Kulekeev that the country would double its yearly output of oil and gas condensate to at least 60 million tons by 2005.

Kazakhstan has been predicting enormous growth in production since its recent announcement of a major discovery at its offshore Kashagan oil field. U.S. officials hope that Kazakhstan will be a source for the oil volumes that are needed to justify building the Baku-Ceyhan line.

Prospects also improved for the trans-Caspian gas pipeline, with reports that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov may soon be ready to pursue the project with Royal Dutch/Shell after months of delay.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal quoted an unnamed Shell executive as saying it would be "days or at most weeks" before the company receives Niyazov's official approval for the project.

The trans-Caspian line from Turkmenistan to Turkey has been stalled by Niyazov's insistence on better financial terms. But now the president is said to fear the loss of Turkey's gas market to Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan as those countries push ahead with their own pipeline plans.

Progress may be possible for both of the U.S.-backed pipelines from the Caspian, particularly now that a growing number of oil companies have voiced interest in taking shares in the construction of Baku-Ceyhan. The two lines would create the energy corridor through the Caucasus that has been sought for so long by the United States, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

But the latest reports still leave a series of difficult questions.

In the case of Baku-Ceyhan, there has been no verification so far from Nazarbayev that he has committed substantial volumes of Kazakh oil to the line. The Kazakh leader made an identical pledge last November when agreements for the pipeline were signed at the OSCE security summit in Istanbul. Days later, he retracted the promise, saying it was only made under pressure.

Soon after, Nazarbayev instead increased his exports through Russian pipelines. This time, the talks with Shevardnadze at Yalta apparently took place in the absence of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who cut short his visit due to the crisis over the sinking of the submarine Kursk. The question is whether Nazarbayev will stick to his latest promise for Baku-Ceyhan if he comes under Russian influence again.

Niyazov is said to be similarly concerned that an endorsement of the trans-Caspian plan could cost him income from lost gas sales to Russia. In May, during a visit to Ashgabat, Putin and Niyazov discussed a huge increase in deliveries of Turkmen gas. But three months later, the two sides have still not agreed on a price.

Before the visit, the countries tried to negotiate a long-term increase of 30,000 million cubic meters a year. They then announced that the increase would be 10,000 million cubic meters a year for the near term. This week, Russia said it wanted only 8,000 million cubic meters. But there is still no agreement on price. Russia is said to be offering substantially less than the rates it now pays for Turkmen gas.

Putin's visit did succeed in raising Niyazov's hopes, however. It also helped to delay the trans-Caspian project because of concerns that Russia would monopolize all of Turkmenistan's available gas supplies.

It remains to be seen whether the Russians are serious about gas purchases or only employing tactics against the competition. But at current rates of delivery, Turkmenistan's existing contract to supply 20 billion cubic meters of gas to Russia is likely to be fulfilled in October, leaving it with no exports after that unless a new deal is signed.

Both Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan now face decisions about pursuing alternatives to Russian export routes. But both countries are susceptible to Russian strategies. Both are also controlled by leaders whose commitments have proved elusive at best.

Their actions may be understandable for countries that seek security in the shadow of Russia. But their inaction in seeking new export routes seems likely to limit their chances for economic security.