RUSSIA OPEN TO MODERATE TALIBAN CONTACTS
Russia backs the idea of talks between Afghanistan's government and moderate elements of the Taliban, a senior Russian diplomat has told Interfax news agency. U.S. President Barack Obama said in a newspaper interview published on March 7 that he was open to the idea of reaching out to moderate elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan, where insurgent violence is at its highest since U.S.-led forces ousted the militant Islamist movement in late 2001. "If the leadership of Afghanistan considers the establishment of contacts with the moderate wing of the Taliban movement necessary, the Russian side would not object to this on condition that they lay down their arms, recognize the constitution and the government of Afghanistan and renounce ties with Al-Qaeda," Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksei Borodavkin told Interfax. The United States is expected to release a review of its own policy toward Afghanistan on March 27. Analysts familiar with the region believe the United States must engage in dialogue with Taliban-led insurgents, if it is to succeed in Afghanistan. The country has been governed by a U.S.-backed administration since the Taliban was overthrown following the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, but has faced a resurgent Taliban ahead of presidential elections due this August. (Reuters)
PRESIDENTS OF TURKMENISTAN AND RUSSIA DID NOT COORDINATE POSITIONS ON GAS PIPELINE EAST - WEST
The Presidents of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, and Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, did not coordinate the position on the gas pipeline the East - the West, which will connect the northeast areas of Turkmenistan with the Caspian Sea. The Assistant to the President of the Russian Federation, Sergey Prihodko, informed after the end of the negotiations of the leaders of two countries, the agency reports.
The parties planned to sign the agreement on this gas pipeline. According to S. Prihodko, the agreement will be modified and signed at the next meeting of the Presidents. "The Presidents of Russia and Turkmenistan plan to sign the agreement on construction of the gas pipeline the East - the West during the next meeting," S. Prihodko informed. He emphasized that there no disagreements on this project. The question has remained open due to the financial crisis," the Assistant to the President of the Russian Federation informed. (Kazakhstan Today)
AT LEAST NINE KILLED IN KANDAHAR SUICIDE ATTACK
At least nine people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a community meeting in southern Afghanistan, the Afghan Interior Ministry said. A government security official who did not want to be named said five Canadians along with some civilians were trapped under the rubble of a collapsed section of the community building, which has been closed off by Canadian troops. The attack occurred in Dand district in southern Kandahar Province. The suicide bomber walked into the building and exploded his device, said Zalmay Ayubi, a spokesman for the provincial governor. A police officer named Ahmadullah told Reuters NATO-led troops were attending the meeting. A spokesman for the alliance said it was aware of a bomb attack in Kandahar, but its forces were not involved. The Afghan Interior Ministry said four civilians and five policemen were killed in the attack. Some 70,000 foreign troops are struggling to crush an escalating Taliban-led insurgency and a further 21,000 U.S. troops are scheduled to be deployed in south and east Afghanistan ahead of presidential elections in August. The attack comes a day before the United Nations hosts a summit in The Hague on Afghanistan's future which will be attended by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and representatives from the United States, NATO countries and Iran. Elsewhere, five insurgents killed themselves and wounded two others as they were planting roadside bombs in Sabri district in eastern Khost Province, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. In Paktia Province, neighboring Khost, three policemen were killed when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Wazi Zadran district, the Interior Ministry said in a separate statement. (Reuters)
TAJIK DRUG AGENCY REJECTS RUSSIAN CORRUPTION CHARGES
The Tajik drug agency has rejected a Russian charge that half of the 300 trucks that cross the Tajik-Afghan border every day are used trafficking drugs and that corruption is high among Tajik agencies. The charges were made last week by a Russian drug-enforcement chief. Fakhriddin Jonmahmadov, the chief of staff of the Tajik drug agency, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on March 31 that the accusations are baseless. He added that in the last four years, the Tajik and Afghan drug agencies have seized more than 6 tons of drugs, destroyed 19 heroin laboratories, and arrested more than 100 people involved in the drug trade. Jonmahmadov said the level of corruption among Tajik agencies is no worse than in similar institutions in other former Soviet countries. He accused journalists of making false accusations against Tajik institutions. Tajik journalist Nurali Davlatov partly agrees, telling RFE/RL that some Tajik journalists are not qualified to cover such complicated issues as drug trafficking, but he added that government structures should also learn to better cooperate with the media. (RFE/RL)
UNEMPLOYMENT RISING IN KYRGYZSTAN'S OSH REGION
Unemployment is rising in Kyrgyzstan's Osh region as thousands of labor migrants return from Russia. The chief of the Osh Regional State Committee on Migration, Nailya Zholdosheva, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that last year the number of officially registered unemployed citizens in the region was just 10,000. That number has risen to 17,500 now. Zholdosheva added that Russian companies officially invited more than 3,000 local workers last year. This year, Zholdosheva said, there were no invitations at all. Local experts say that social tensions might escalate in the region if the government is not able to set up new jobs in the near future. (RFE/RL)
AZERBAIJANI FM VISITS GEORGIA
Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov and his accompanying delegation paid a two-day visit to Georgia on Wednesday. As part of the visit, Mammadyarov and his Georgian counterpart Grigol Vashadze signed a plan of consultations for 2009 between the two countries` Foreign Ministries. Then, the two ministers briefed journalists. Grigol Vashadze said during the meeting they discussed humanitarian issues between Azerbaijan and Georgia. According to him, there are no political problems between the two countries. He noted Azerbaijan had always supported Georgia during the difficult times. The Minister also informed that Georgian President and Prime Minister have to visit Azerbaijan.
Elmar Mammadyarov, in turn, said the talks with his Georgian counterpart mainly focused on how to deepen economic and humanitarian cooperation between the two countries. He pointed out friendly relations between the two countries` presidents contribute to boosting bilateral ties. During the visit, the Azerbaijani Minister also met with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Prime Minister Nikoloz Gilauri. Azerbaijani ambassador to Georgia Namig Aliyev was present at the meetings. (AzerTAc)
EGYPT-BASED COMPANY PLANS FREE INDUSTRIAL ZONE IN KUTAISI
An Egypt-based home appliances producer company, Fresh Electric, intends to create a free industrial zone in Georgia’s second largest town of Kutaisi, Lasha Zhvania, the Georgian economy minister, said on April 2. A memorandum of intent between Fresh Electric and the Georgian government, he said, would be signed on April 6, according to which the company will establish the free zone on a 27-hectare plot of land. The Minister said that the company would build about dozen of textile, ceramics and home appliances producing factories in the zone. Lasha Zhvania said that the company planned “unprecedented investments for Georgia.” “Total of USD 1.28 billion will be invested this year and on the second stage, after year and half, a second stage of investment will be launched and over USD 2 billion will be invested. 2,500 people will be employed this year as a result of this project and on the next stage – after year and a half, from 12,500 to 15,000 people will be employed,” Zhvania said. “No such investment has ever been carried out in Georgia.” He also said that a New York-based Georgian businessman, Mikheil Tigishvili, would be a local partner of the Egyptian company. (Civil Georgia)
TURKISH RADIO STATION LAUNCHES ARMENIAN LANGUAGE PROGRAMS
A Turkish radio station has launched Armenian-language broadcasts, airing 30-minute programs every morning and evening, RFE/RL's correspondent in Istanbul reports. A spokesman for Turkey's TGRT TV and radio corporation, Mehmet Soyal, told journalists that the Armenian programs are intended to help to develop cultural dialogue between Turkey and Armenia, and will be available around the clock in the future. One of the initiators of the Armenian-language broadcasts was Hrant Dink, a well-known Turkish journalist of Armenian origin and the editor of the bi-lingual newspaper "Agos." Dink was killed by Turkish nationalists in 2007. (RFE/RL)
IRANIAN PRESIDENT SET FOR KAZAKHSTAN VISIT
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is due to arrive in Kazakhstan on Monday for his first state visit to the neighbouring Central Asian nation, the Kazakh foreign ministry said. "It is expected that the President of Iran on Monday will arrive for an official visit in Kazakhstan," a ministry spokesman told AFP on Friday. The two-day visit will include talks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev expected to touch on a range of issues including regional security cooperation and fishing rights in the Caspian Sea, which both states border. The plight of sturgeon populations in the Caspian Sea became an international environmental issue and cause for embarrassment after the fish were pushed to the brink of extinction for their lucrative black caviar. The two predominantly Muslim countries have extensive trade ties, and are currently cooperating on the construction of a massive rail link through Central Asia which will connect the Islamic Republic with Russia. (AFP)
UZBEKS SEEK FUNDING FOR MAJOR ROAD PROJECT
The authorities in Uzbekistan are planning major improvements to a highway linking Central Asia with China. Analysts see this infrastructure project as a way of generating jobs and thus easing the economic difficulties – and possible social tensions – created by the fall-out from financial crisis. In late March, the state-run website Gazeta.uz reported that by 2015, a road route from Kazakstan in the north through the Uzbek cities of Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent to Kyrgyzstan and then on to China will be completely refurbished. The 2.5 billion US dollar upgrade would transform the current road into a two-lane highway for its entire 1,400-kilometre length, adding 18 large bridges, 600 smaller ones, 300 flyovers, 180 filling stations, 12 camp sites and other items. It is estimated that the upgraded transport corridor will increase freight movement along the route by 50 per cent. A source close to the Uzbek government said the presidential office was drafting orders to start the work. The Asian Development Bank has indicated that it is prepared to part-finance the project, but the government will need to seek funds from other investors.
Infrastructure projects like this one form part of the anti-crisis strategy the Uzbek government launched late last year. Commentators say such projects will create large numbers of jobs as the country – like many others – struggles with economic problems and the risk of rising social tensions. According to official statistics, there are about 630,000 unemployed in Uzbekistan, although independent estimates suggest the real figure is closer to 1.5 million, out of a total population of 27 million. That aside, there are believed to be four or five million Uzbek nationals working abroad. As labour markets contract in the most popular destinations – Russia and Kazakstan – some of the migrants may be forced to return. Viktor Ivonin, an independent economist in Tashkent, says the roadbuilding project could provide work to large numbers of people, including in rural areas, and will have the added benefit of using locally-made machinery and materials. Other commentators questioned how easy it will be to attract financing in an environment where money is tight and potential investors will view new projects with suspicion. “Given the global financial crisis, international financial institutions will tend to hold back, with the sole exception of the Asian Development Bank which already pledged support,” said Dilmurod Kholmatov, an expert from Tashkent.
An economist in Uzbekistan said negotiations with potential funders were likely to be protracted, since they will demand feasibility studies. For example, it was only this March that Kazakstan secured the 2.3 billion dollars in funding needed for its Western Europe-Western China road project, after three years of negotiations. He added, “Uzbekistan is only at the initial stage.” (IWPR)
AZERI PARLIAMENT SPEAKER CONCERNED BY TURKISH-ARMENIAN RAPPROCHEMENT
Azerbaijani parliament speaker Ogtay Asadov said he is concerned about the possible opening of the Turkish-Armenian border, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports. Asadov said in parliament that opening the border is "against Azerbaijan's interests." Parliamentarian Igbal Agazade, the chairman of the Umid party, suggested the holding of a closed-door hearing on the current state of affairs in the Nagorno-Karabakh talks on Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. His proposal was rejected by parliament. Asadov said the issue of Turkish-Armenian rapprochement will be discussed in meetings between Azerbaijani and Turkish deputies at both the Turkish parliament and in Baku. A group of Azerbaijani women's deputies is due to visit Ankara this month and deputies from both countries will discuss Turkish-Azerbaijani relations at a conference in Baku April 13-15. (RFE/RL)
ARMENIA AND IRAN PLAN RAIL LINK
Armenia and Iran have signed an agreement for a railway that would link Armenia to the Persian Gulf. The line would not become a reality for about five years, the Russian Interfax news agency reported. A working group is expected to take about 18 months to determine the best route and do a feasibility study and constructing the line would take three to four years, Iranian Roads and Transportation Minister Hamed Behbahani said. Armenia, a landlocked country, has no rail line that crosses its border. Rail lines to Azerbaijan and Turkey have been closed for years, and the rail link with Russia was cut by the Russian-Georgian conflict since it crosses Georgia. Behbahani said the line would be about 300 miles long, with most of that distance in Armenia. Gurgen Sarkisian, the Armenian minister of transportation and communications, described the rail line as "a continuation of the Silk Road," the historic trade route that connected China with the Middle East. (UPI)
CONTROVERSIAL AFGHAN SHI’A LAW ON HOLD FOR REVIEW
Afghanistan's Justice Ministry has said a law for the country's Shi'a minority, which has caused an international uproar because of controversial provisions on women's rights, is on hold and under review. The ministry said for now it would not publish the law in the country's official gazette, which would bring it into effect. "The justice ministry is working on the law, and on those articles which were problematic, and for the time being the law is not going to be published," a ministry spokesman said. Shi'ite Muslims account for some 15 percent of mainly Sunni Muslim Afghanistan and the wide-ranging Shi'ite Personal Status Law aims to enshrine differences between the two sects. Critics say the law legalises marital rape, and some lawmakers allege Karzai signed it hastily because he faces a crucial election on August 20 and wants to curry favor with Shi'ite voters, who can swing the contest. But supporters of the law say it is an important defence of minority rights and traditions that was debated on and off for two years before being signed by Karzai and approved by both chambers of parliament. After it drew criticism from Afghanistan's Western allies, President Hamid Karzai promised on April 4 that the Justice Minister would speak on it in detail, but he has not yet done so. A copy of the unpublished law seen by Reuters states "a wife is obliged to fulfill the sexual desires of her husband" when she is healthy and has to wear make-up if her husband demands it. Article 137 also says a woman cannot inherit any of her husband's wealth when he dies, a provision that already applies to Sunni Muslim women under Afghan law. Amendments made to the Shi'ite law show the marriage age for women was raised to 16 from nine and that a woman would be allowed to leave her home unaccompanied for medical treatment, to go to work, or for her education. (Reuters)
EU STILL HAS QUESTIONS ABOUT MANAS AIRBASE - SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE
The European Union expects Bishkek to provide additional explanations concerning the repealed agreement on the deployment of the Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan has said many times that it takes part in the anti-terrorist coalition in Afghanistan, which meets its national security interests, and the Manas airbase is the form of participation in the coalition, EU Special Representative for Georgia and Central Asia Pierre Morel said in an interview, in the Monday issue of the Vremya Novostei newspaper.
Morel said he wondered what Kyrgyzstan would do now and said that coalition member countries operating in Afghanistan under the UN mandate were suffering losses for the sake of everyone, including Kyrgyzstan. The EU still has questions and hopes that Kyrgyzstan will give answers, Morel said. Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev expressed the readiness to continue negotiations with the United States but the vector of the negotiations was still unknown, he said. Kyrgyzstan says that its decision to close down the airbase will not affect relations with Europe, but this is not so, as Europe is linked to the United States, Morel said. Europe has to know details of the negotiations between the United States and Kyrgyzstan, he said. The decision to close down the Manas airbase was sudden, and no prior notifications were given, Morel said. Europe was aware of certain problems but there was no regular exchange of information and some issues remained unclear, he said. (Interfax)
SAAKASHVILI HAILS OBAMA’S GEORGIA REMARKS
President Saakashvili said on April 6, that the previous U.S. administration “has never made even one half of those statements,” which were made by the present one to describe the Russia’s moves against Georgia in August, 2008. “There have been speculations that Georgia was sold or traded off. The previous U.S. administration has never made even one half of those statements, which were made this time by President Obama. The previous [U.S.] administration was speaking about excessive use of force [apparently referring to the term “disproportionate use of force”]; while this man [President Obama] said: invasion, aggression, occupation. He gave correct names to everything,” Saakashvili said. President Obama said on April 3: “I was a critic of the Russian invasion of Georgia.” He then added. “I continue to believe that despite extraordinary efforts of President Sarkozy to broker ceasefire, we have not seen a stabilization of that situation.” President Saakashvili, who was speaking in Kutaisi in a live televised meeting with workers from local machinery factory, also said that NATO’s recent statements were also expression of support towards Georgia. “Of course, Georgia has many challenges ahead. Of course, 20% of our territory is occupied and this is the greatest tragedy for me. But you have seen the recent NATO summit,” Saakashvili said. “It is the support when the NATO Secretary General said Georgia would enter NATO with South Ossetia – said he used the term ‘the so called South Ossetia’, even we do not say it for a long time already - and Abkhazia. It is a result of hard work.” “If we manage to maintain and save our economy, if these 12 plants are built here [as part of the planned free industrial zone in Kutaisi] and they will manage to build those skyscrapers about which I am dreaming in Kutaisi, Poti, Batumi, Tbilisi, Zugdidi, Telavi, if we manage to build this high-speed railway here… how can they occupy our territories? After seeing all these, the world will support us. When the country is successful, everybody wants to make friends with you and to support you,” Saakashvili said. (Civil Georgia)
MULTI-AGENCY CONSORTIUM LAUNCHING CASPIAN ENVIRONMENTAL PROJECT
A consortium of the United Nations Office of Project Services (UNOPS), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) are about to start a new project called "The Caspian Sea: Restoring Depleted Fisheries and Consolidation of a Permanent Regional Environmental Governance Framework Project (CASPECO)," the UNDP office in Kazakhstan said on Monday. The agency explained the project with the increasing need to enhance the environmental protection of the Caspian Sea, whose status had not been defined by Kazakhstan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan or Russia. The consortium will promote the protection of Caspian biodiversity on the basis of the Tehran Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea, the agency said. The project aims for sustainable fisheries and bio resources and strengthened regional environmental governance. The monitoring system will be the core of early monitoring of environmental threats and sensitive areas of biodiversity, the agency said. (Interfax)
CHINESE VICE PRESIDENT VOWS TO ENHANCE RELATIONS WITH KYRGYZSTAN
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping on Tuesday pledged to work with Kyrgyzstan to push forward bilateral relationship. Xi made the remarks when meeting with Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Kadyrbek Sarbaev.
To deepen bilateral cooperation and increase coordination under multilateral frameworks, such as the United Nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), was of important significance for promoting peace and development in the two countries and the region at large, Xi said. "China is ready to work with Kyrgyzstan to cement the bilateral traditional friendship and advance it to achieve greater development," Xi noted. Sarbaev said his country valued the relationship with China, and gave priority to it in the country's foreign policy. Expressing satisfaction over the growth of relations in recent years, Sarbaev said the country hoped to work with China to maintain close high-level visits, expand cooperation, and jointly combat the "three evil forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism. Sarbaev expected that the two countries would work together to safeguard regional peace and stability. The foreign minister was here on an official visit from April 5 to 7 at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi. (People’s daily)
ARMENIAN MINISTER SAYS TURKEY IMPEDING PROGRESS
Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian has accused Turkey of jeopardizing talks between the two countries after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Nagorno-Karabakh remains an obstacle to a “healthy solution.” Nalbandian stated on April 5 that Armenia is not obligated to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict before talking to Turkey, and that Erdogan’s remarks “may be regarded as an attempt to impede the progress reached in the negotiations,” RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports. Nalbandian arrives in Istanbul on April 7 for the UN Alliance of Civilizations summit, where he is expected to meet his Turkish counterpart, Ali Babacan, to discuss establishing diplomatic relations and the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev reportedly pulled out of the UN summit to protest any improvement in Armenian-Turkish relations. (RFE/RL)
SOKHUMI SAYS REINFORCING BORDER WITH GEORGIA
Authorities in breakaway Abkhazia said on April 8 that Abkhaz troops together with the Russian forces in the region were reinforcing border with Georgia, Abkhaz news agency, Apsnipress, reported. The breakaway region’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the move came in response “to increasing provocations by the Georgian side and attempts to carry out terrorist acts in the border areas.” Apsnipress reported that the decision also comes after the Georgian coast guard seized a Turkish vessel en-route from Sokhumi to Istanbul. Georgia said on April 7 that the vessel was seized in the Georgian territorial waters for “illegal crossing of Georgian territorial waters” in Abkhazia. Also on April 8, authorities in breakaway Abkhazia said that its artillery forces had launched week-long exercises in lower part of Kodori Gorge with involvement of GRAD multiple rocket launchers. Meanwhile, MP Akaki Minashvili of the ruling party and chairman of parliamentary committee for foreign affairs, said on April 8: “Some movement, wakening up of the Russian forces is being observed related with [the developments] in these days [reference to planned protest rallies] and it is a source of our concern and it is a challenge which we all – the authorities, the opposition, the people - have to tackle through our unity in order not to allow our external enemy, the northern neighbor to invade us.” (Civil Georgia)