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Turkmenistan Bars Students From Traveling To U.S.-Linked Schools

ASHGABAT -- The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat has confirmed that Turkmen authorities are preventing students from traveling to U.S.-linked universities, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports.

U.S. Embassy spokesman William Stevens told RFE/RL that the Turkmen government's actions against students at U.S.-linked universities are an extension of its refusal to allow students in the Turkmen-American Scholarship Program to return to the American University in Central Asia (AUCA) in Bishkek.

Stevens said 51 students transferred from AUCA due to the Turkmen government's ban on them returning to Bishkek and were accepted at American University in Bulgaria.

But they were denied access to a flight to Bulgaria at Ashgabat's airport on October 2-3.

Stevens says the embassy had previously received assurances from several Turkmen officials on multiple occasions that the students would be able to travel.

He says the U.S. Embassy is going to continue to raise the issue with the Turkmen government with the option that the barred students would be able to continue their education in Turkmenistan.

"The Washington Post," "The New York Times," and CBS News have covered the travel ban on Turkmen students but Ashgabat has issued no public statements about its actions.

The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat said earlier that Turkmen authorities are discouraging students from participating in educational exchanges in the United States and that there are some cases of students being pressured not to return to some programs and others who have had difficulties at school or work in Turkmenistan after returning from their U.S.-linked program abroad.

Alexander Narodetsky, a political analyst of post-Soviet states, says Turkmenistan is becoming increasingly independent and the government has decided itself on the travel ban for Turkmen students going to U.S.-linked schools.

Other analysts say the policy may come from the policy-making circle around President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, as those advisers are purported to have good relations with the Kremlin.

Berdymukhammedov met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the United Nations on September 20.

A U.S. State Department official said after the meeting that "human rights is not as big an issue in Turkmenistan as it is in some of the other Central Asian countries."