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EU Envoy Warns Of Regional Risk From Kyrgyz Instability

Kyrgyz servicemen patrol in Osh. The EU has warned that instability could spread throughout the region.
BRUSSELS -- The top EU envoy for Central Asia has warned that recent instability in the south of Kyrgyzstan could spill over into other countries along the Ferghana Valley.

Pierre Morel, the EU special representative for the region, also said the EU wants the referendum on Kyrgyzstan's new constitution to go ahead as planned on June 27.

Morel made his comments before the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee in Brussels today.

The hour-long question-and-answer session was the first public appearance of the veteran EU envoy after a fact-finding visit to Kyrgyzstan last week.

His audience consisted of a dozen or so scattered EU deputies struggling to use up their allotted speaking time.

EU special representative Pierre Morel
Morel -- who said he had left a meeting of EU ambassadors busy "mobilizing resources" for Kyrgyzstan -- sought to impress on his listeners the gravity of the situation.

The situation is “difficult, very difficult, because apart from the future of the country, it puts into question the security and stability of the entire Central Asian region," Morel said.

Regional stability is an important EU policy objective, given Central Asia's significant energy resources and proximity to Afghanistan.

Morel said there has been too little EU engagement with Kyrgyzstan in the past, despite the country's attempts to break with authoritarianism. Only France and Germany have embassies in Bishkek, and an EU delegation was established only in February.

Blame Placed On Bakiev

The EU envoy blamed the "clan" of ex-President Kurmanbek Bakiev, ousted in April after a popular revolt, for fomenting the unrest in Kyrgyzstan's south earlier this month which saw scores of people killed in clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz.

Morel said Bakiev’s loyalists, led by his brother, made a "concerted effort" to provoke the clashes in a bid to regain power. Bakiev, who is now in Belarus, has denied any connection to the violence.

Morel said that during his trip he spoke to civil society activists who had been on the ground in Osh during the turmoil.

He also noted the presence of drug gangs and Islamic extremists in the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad.

Another factor, Morel said, was the "lack of attention and effort" from Bishkek, and the inadequacies of the local law enforcement forces, which were overrun, with many police killed.

The EU diplomat said the bloc is now looking for a "role" in the country alongside the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), without "duplicating" the work of either.

Morel said the EU's focus is on fostering democracy in Kyrgyzstan. "The message of the European Union is very clear. We call for a road map for a return to democracy. First, public order; second, the rule of law: and, third, a return to a genuinely democratic constitution," he said.

Morel said the EU wants the June 27 referendum on a new constitution to go ahead.

He noted the constitution -- with elections to follow in October -- will not usher in a fully parliamentary system, but a "mixed" one where a popularly elected president still has wide powers.

But, Morel said, the elements of parliamentarianism in the new constitution should "balance" the president's role and break what he called the "Kyrgyz cycle" of street protests against autocratic rulers being usurped by clan leaders acting in their own narrow self-interest.

The EU has released 5 million euros ($6.14 million) in humanitarian aid, and another 6 million is in the pipeline for electoral support and civil society initiatives.