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International Donors Pledge Over $1 Billion Aid To Kyrgyzstan


President Roza Otunbaeva said Kyrgyzstan "needs such assistance as never before."
BISHKEK -- At a donors conference in Bishkek, representatives of 14 countries and 15 international organizations have pledged $1.1 billion in response to appeals from Kyrgyz interim government leaders.

President Roza Otunbaeva made an impassioned appeal to the representatives at the start of the conference.

"Ladies and gentlemen, during these critical days we have felt the support of the international community of our friends and partners. In particular, the United Nations and its partners have addressed the international community with a request for $96 million in humanitarian assistance for the southern regions of our country," Otunbaeva said.

"The Kyrgyz republic needs such assistance as never before," she added. "We are ready to take full responsibility for this assistance and especially for ensuring that it benefits our people. We are confident in our clear program for social, political and economic stabilization of the country."

Massive Damage

The current government in Bishkek assumed power in mid-April, after a popular uprising led to the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

The upheaval left almost 100 people dead and triggered episodes of ethnic violence in the weeks following that destroyed whole sections of the country's second-largest city, Osh.

There was also violence in nearby Jalal-Abad, where Governor Bektur Asanov has told RFE/RL he expects the final tally of damages there to total as much as $600 million.

To coincide with the donor conference, the government released an official accounting of the cost of the weeks of turmoil and clashes.

It noted that "in addition to severe social damage -- including up to 375,000 people displaced, with 75,000 still displaced at this time -- the events of June 2010 brought about critical destruction of housing by arson in the south and damage to physical infrastructure...."

Even in the best of times, Kyrgyzstan has struggled with poverty. The tumultuous events of the last few months have worsened what was already a weak economy.

The government has predicted that the national economy will shrink by 3.5 percent in 2010 and output per capita will fall to $826 -- more than $100 less than pre-crisis expectations.

Conditions Attached

Today's international aid pledges came with strict guidelines for how the money is to be used. Donors are no doubt mindful of Bishkek's history of squandering previous gifts of financial aid, most recently, a loan from Russia.

Russia halted its monetary aid to the country at the start of 2010 after Russian officials discovered a large part of an initial $450 million package of a $2 billion loan had been reinvested outside the country by President Bakiev's son Maksim and his business associates.

Following a press conference in Bishkek, RFE/RL asked the World Bank's director of strategy and operations for Europe and Central Asia, Theodore Ahlers, about his level of confidence that the interim Kyrgyz government will disperse the aid package responsibly.

"We have to deal with the government that is in place today," Ahlers said. "This government has taken action to reverse the practices of the previous government, which clearly led to the abuse of public power and misuse of public resources."

Ahlers said the fact that Otunbaeva will remain in office until the end of 2011 offers some guarantee of a continuity of policy in Kyrgyzstan.

But statements from the government in Bishkek have not always been in synch with the policies of officials in the restive south, particularly since June's violence.

Osh Mayor Melis Myrzakmatov told RFE/RL on June 20 that his plan for the reconstruction of Osh envisioned razing burned-out neighborhoods -- which are populated largely by ethnic Uzbeks -- and constructing high-rise apartment complexes that would become home to both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks -- two groups that have not exactly coexisted peacefully recently.

Ahlers said the donors at the international conference were aware of the controversial re-housing plan and had made their wishes clear to government leaders.

"The government stated today that they would not force people off of their property, that they respected property rights," Ahlers said.

"A large number of donors expressed their view that it was important that families whose homes were destroyed be allowed, if they wished, to rebuild their homes on that same land and certainly not to be forcibly resettled and made their financial support conditional upon a government program respecting those perimeters."

Otunbaeva herself told RFE/RL the Osh mayor was "a controversial question" and that she intended to visit the city on July 29 to look into the situation across the south.