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Tajik PM Disputes Uzbek Rationale For Rail Delays

Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov
Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov
UNITED NATIONS -- Tajikistan's prime minister has described as an "excuse" Uzbekistan's claims that technical problems are blocking freight trains bound for his country.

Uzbekistan began roughly two months ago to blockade the passage of Tajikistan-bound freight trains through its territory. Some 1,000 freight cars with construction material, aluminum ore, and fuel are thought to have been held up.

On March 23, Tajikistan's Foreign Ministry summoned the Uzbek ambassador to hand over a note of protest about the hold-up.

Responding to an RFE/RL question at United Nations headquarters in New York, Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov said that a thorough inspection of the rail lines that Uzbekistan claimed have been damaged by floods and mudslides had revealed no such damage.

He said the railroads in Uzbekistan were in satisfactory condition to allow for the transportation of freight trains without hindrance.

"After inspection, there was no significant damage discovered and the passage of the freight trains could have been resumed without obstruction," Oqilov said. "That's why this is only an excuse that because of some technical problems the freight trains couldn't continue to Tajikistan."

Oqilov said the blockade is depriving many Tajik farmers of fuel just as the seed-planting season approaches.

Some of the freight cars contain construction materials for the Roghun hydroelectric power plant, a project that Uzbekistan opposes.

Uzbekistan is unhappy with water-resources distribution in Central Asia, where 60 percent of all water in the region originates in Tajikistan. Tashkent is concerned that if the Roghun project is completed, it will deprive Uzbekistan of an important water resource for irrigation.

But Oqilov said that the water reservoir at Roghun would take decades to fill and its effect on the environment would be negligible.

"This water reservoir is not going to fill to full capacity in one or two years, it will take decades," Oqilov said. "I think that all these issues of energy consumption may be solved in a civilized manner for the benefit of all Central Asian people."

If Tajikistan completes the construction of Roghun, he said, it would satisfy not only Tajikistan's power needs but even the needs of some of its neighbors, specifically Afghanistan.