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Ban Talks About Democracy Message To Central Asia

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's five-state tour included a tour with his wife through the Spirit of Turkmenbashi Mosque and Mausoleum, outside the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, on April 2.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said he repeated a "simple and direct" message to Central Asian leaders on the importance of respect for human rights during a recent tour of the region.

Ban also discussed the current power struggle in Kyrgyzstan and the management of natural resources throughout the region.

In all five countries, Ban said, he told leaders that the protection of human rights is a "bedrock principle" of the United Nations.

Ban told officials that democracy could only exist with a robust civil society rooted in the rule of law, respect for human rights, and freedom of expression.

"I urged the leaders in the region to comply fully with international human rights laws and many treaties to which they are signatories," Ban said on April 12. "I also urged them to fully implement all the recommendations made by the UN Human Rights Council under the universal periodic review."

Two Central Asian states, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, are regarded as among the world's worst human rights offenders by the U.S.-based group Freedom House.

Rights groups have urged Ban to condemn the human rights violations in both countries.

Ban visited Kyrgyzstan just two days before violence that killed at least 80 people led the country's president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, to flee the capital and political opponents declared an interim government.

Ban said he has been following the situation "very closely" and that his special envoy, Jan Kubis, is in Bishkek until April 15.

"He has been meeting with all parties, working closely with the envoys of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe...and others to maintain and restore constitutional order while respecting the wishes of the Kyrgyz people," Ban said of Kubis's visit.

Ban's spokesman, Martin Nesirky, confirmed that the UN under secretary-general for political affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, had met with Kyrgyz opposition leader Roza Otunbaeva while Ban was visiting Kyrgyzstan last week. The details of that meeting were not disclosed, but Nesirky said that Ban could sense the political tension during his visit.

Otunbaeva heads the group that declared an interim government and has threatened to arrest Bakiev if he does not cooperate. Bakiev insists on his legitimacy and warned of massive "bloodshed" if the plotters move to detain or kill him.

Meanwhile, there are reports that a number of Kyrgyzstan foreign ambassadors have been fired by the interim government including the ambassador to the U.S., Zamira Sydykova, and the permanent representative to the UN, Nurbek Jeenbaev.

A source at Kyrgyzstan's UN mission told RFE/RL that Ambassador Jeenbaev continues to represent Kyrgyzstan at the UN.

In his discussions with Central Asian leaders, Ban said he also focused on an issue of "crucial importance" for all five Central Asian states: the management of the natural resources, chiefly water and energy.

"Every year tensions are rising. Visiting the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan, I saw a graveyard of ships moored in the sand [that] was once a deep seabed," Ban said. "Resolving these tensions harmoniously through dialogue and negotiation is a collective responsibility not only of the region's leaders but the international community."

Aside from the Aral Sea disaster, a simmering water-rights dispute between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is near the boiling point.

Tajikistan has announced its intention to complete a dam and hydroelectric power plant at Rogun that Uzbekistan vehemently opposes.

Tashkent is concerned that completion of the Rogun Dam will severely constrict flows downstream that Uzbekistan uses to irrigate crops of one of its most lucrative exports, cotton.

Dushanbe dismisses those concerns as unfounded.

More than 60 percent of Central Asia's water resources originate in Tajikistan, and water distribution and management are a frequent point of friction among the Central Asian states.

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