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Kyrgyz Ex-President Akaev Returns For Questioning Over Gold Mine At Center Of International Dispute

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Former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev (file photo)

BISHKEK -- The ousted first president of independent Kyrgyzstan has returned from Russian exile to Bishkek for questioning in connection with an investigation into possible corruption around one of the world's biggest gold mines.

It is ex-President Askar Akaev's first trip to the post-Soviet Central Asian republic since he fled peaceful pro-democracy rallies in 2005.

He was immediately taken to Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (UNMK), which said he was sought in connection with a probe into the development of the Kumtor gold mine.

After the questioning, Akaev told journalists outside the UKMK offices that he was "very happy" to be back in his native country and thanked President Sadyr Japarov for "allowing" him to visit Bishkek.

Akaev did not elaborate on the investigation or questioning, saying that the probe is still under way and adding, "I came to help the government with the investigations and further development of our country."

He also said that "there might have been some mistakes" during his tenure as Kyrgyzstan’s president.

Kumtor has been a target of financial and environmental disagreements for years and is currently the subject of an ongoing battle for control between the Kyrgyz state and the mine's operator, Canadian Centerra Gold.

UKMK chief Kamchybek Tashiev said on July 8 that Akaev and another exiled former Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, had been added to the international wanted list as part of the Kumtor corruption probe.

Tashiev said the Kyrgyz government intends to prove in international court that Centerra Gold paid bribes to top Kyrgyz officials.

Akaev fled to Russia during the so-called Tulip Revolution in 2005.

Bakiev has been in exile in Belarus since being toppled by anti-government protests in 2010.

The giant Kumtor gold project has been the focus of international attention since a new Kyrgyz government moved to temporarily take over operations at the mine over what President Japarov said was a necessary move to remedy environmental and safety violations.

In May, the Kyrgyz government approved a law allowing it to take control for up to three months of any company that operates under a concession agreement in Kyrgyzstan if that firm violates environmental regulations, endangers the local environment or the lives of people, or causes other significant damage.

Centerra has called the Kyrgyz actions "wrongful and illegal" and said in July that it had filed additional arbitration claims against the government in Bishkek over Kumtor.

In recent months, Kyrgyz authorities have arrested several former officials and current lawmakers in connection with the case.

Akaev was president from 1990-2005 but since his departure had avoided returning to Kyrgyzstan even for the burial of close relatives.

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