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U.S.-Kyrgyz Talks Focus On Need For Stability, Democratic Reforms

Michael McFaul (file photo)
BISHKEK -- A top adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama says his talks with Kyrgyz interim government officials this week focused on the democratization process as well as the need to bolster stability in the country's south, after last month's deadly ethnic violence there.

Michael McFaul, director for Russian and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council, finished two days of meetings in Bishkek on July 14 that included talks with President Roza Otunbaeva and political leaders who are preparing for parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

McFaul also met with the heads of Kyrgyz-based nongovernmental groups and other civil society leaders.

Otunbaeva today appointed a caretaker government to administer the country -- which was roiled by deadly ethnic clashes in June -- until parliamentary elections in October. The new cabinet was named after key members of the interim government -- which has been in power since a popular uprising in April toppled former President Kurmanbek Bakiev -- resigned to campaign in the election.

McFaul said his meetings stressed the importance of bolstering the democratic process in Kyrgyzstan during the parliamentary election campaign, "both the actual physical conduct of the elections -- the Central Election Commission and the monitoring efforts that the international community, including the United States, are supporting -- as well as talking to political leaders about their plans for this election campaign process."

Last month, voters in Kyrgyzstan approved a new constitution that aims to make the country the first parliamentary democracy in Central Asia.

McFaul lauded Kyrgyzstan's leaders for the lengths to which they are going to hold competitive elections under difficult circumstances.

"In speaking with [Kyrgyzstan's] political leaders, I come away with the impression that this election is going to be a very competitive election," McFaul said. "That's the essence of democracy -- competition."

No Talk Of Manas

Kyrgyzstan is home to a U.S. transit center at Manas airport outside Bishkek that is vital for supplying troops in Afghanistan. But McFaul said that the issue was not on the agenda of his talks with Otunbaeva.

"I did have some discussions with other government officials about the transit center. But it was not the focus at all of this particular trip," McFaul said. "The last time I was here, [in May], I heard many questions about 'all the United States cares about is the transit center.' That is not our policy. It has never been the Obama administration's policy."

But McFaul said he did receive positive feedback from Kyrgyz interim officials about international involvement in an investigation into the ethnic violence that forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in southern Kyrgyzstan last month -- many of them ethnic Uzbek citizens.

"What is very important is that there has to be a very thorough investigation of what happened. We believe that there needs to be international involvement in that investigation," McFaul said.

"I was pleased to hear that that idea was shared by the government, and we are optimistic that we can find the right formulation so that all international organizations that want to be included in some kind of investigation will be included -- because it has to be an independent investigation with international involvement."

Reports Of Abuses In South

The U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch warned today that the torture and arbitrary detention of ethnic Uzbeks by security forces in southern Kyrgyzstan could lead to a new wave of conflict in the country.

Human Rights Watch said that Uzbeks were being "disproportionately" arrested -- and at times tortured -- as part of a government drive to investigate and punish those responsible for deadly ethnic riots last month.

McFaul said he raised the issue with officials and urged them to take steps to foster reconciliation.

"We are very worried and concerned about reports we hear about the violations of people's rights in the south, and particularly of Uzbek citizens here in Kyrgyzstan," McFaul said.

"We have raised those cases with the government of Kyrgyzstan," he added. "One of the principle challenges of the new government and the upcoming new parliament is to devise ways to stimulate reconciliation after the tragedies that we have witnessed. You can only have reconciliation if the rights of all citizens of Kyrgyzstan are respected. Not just of some."

McFaul said he did not travel to the troubled southern city of Osh during this week's visit. But he said he got the impression from his talks with government officials and Kyrgyz nongovernmental groups that good work appears to have been done to try to stabilize the situation there. Still, he said, "a lot of work remains" to ensure long-term stability in southern Kyrgyzstan, especially in Osh.

"The one thing -- the one factor in my opinion -- that is the greatest threat to Kyrgyzstan's current experiment with restoring democracy is renewed violence in places like Osh," McFaul said.

"That's why we are trying to do all that we can to help prevent renewed conflict -- both in our bilateral assistance, in our international assistance, and in our diplomatic relations with countries in your region and with Russia to try to work together to do what we can to facilitate long-term stability in the south of Kyrgyzstan."

McFaul said there was a "long discussion" between Obama and Dmitry Medvedev when the Russian president visited the United States on June 24. He said both Russia and the United States have similar interests in maintaining stability in Kyrgyzstan.

written by RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz in Prague with reporting by RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service correspondent Bektash Shamshiev in Bishkek
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