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Thursday, 23 April 2009

22 April News Digest

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By Alima Bissenova (4/23/2009 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Tajik Parliament approves controversial restitution treaty 10 April The Tajik parliament's lower house has approved the CIS Treaty on Restitution, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports. Deputy Culture Minister Mirali Dostiev told the parliament that ratification of the treaty would help bring back home all the artwork and historic valuables lost and stolen during the 1992-97 civil war in Tajikistan. However, Abduvali Sharifov, the head of the Tajik National Museum, says that the ratification of the treaty is not enough.

Tajik Parliament approves controversial restitution treaty 10 April The Tajik parliament's lower house has approved the CIS Treaty on Restitution, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports. Deputy Culture Minister Mirali Dostiev told the parliament that ratification of the treaty would help bring back home all the artwork and historic valuables lost and stolen during the 1992-97 civil war in Tajikistan. However, Abduvali Sharifov, the head of the Tajik National Museum, says that the ratification of the treaty is not enough. According to him, a list of the lost and stolen historic valuables should be created. Sharifov says that Tajikistan's attempts to have the ancient art masterpiece known as the Treasure of Amu-Dariya repatriated from the British Museum were fruitless in the past, in part because Tajik authorities failed to prove property rights to the British Museum. Another example, Sharifov says, is the fact that a huge number of historic documents, valuable artwork, and other ancient materials from Central Asia are still held in Russia's Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and there is no way to return them to the now independent states. (RFE/RL)

 

TURKISH-ARMENIAN BORDERS CAN BE OPENED ONLY IN THE CONTEXT OF SETTLEMENT OF KARABAKH CONFLICT, AZERI DEPUTY FM

10 April

The Turkish-Armenian borders can be re-opened only in the context of resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov told journalists. "Opening of the borders out of this context does not correspond to Azerbaijan`s interests. We have declared our position to the Turkish government,” Azimov said.  The Deputy FM noted every country has its own sovereign rights and policy. “Azerbaijan does not interfere with internal affairs of other countries. At the same time, nobody can deny Turkey`s connection with this region. However, everybody is aware of the strong strategic ties between Turkey and Azerbaijan,” he stressed. “Taking into consideration that the border closure decision was caused by the occupation of Azerbaijan`s lands, this decision can be abolished only after our territories are liberated” Azimov said official Baku “also takes into consideration statements by the Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan who declared that the borders with Armenia will not be opened until the conflict finds its solution”. "Azerbaijan will never be alone as all processes and regional projects originate here. Dependent on Azerbaijan`s wish regional development processes can be both accelerated and change its direction," the deputy minister said. Different circles in Turkey claim Turkey-Armenia borders will be re-opened. Turkish President Abdullah Gul visited Yerevan on Sept. 6, 2008 upon the invitation of his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan to watch an Armenia-Turkey football match. Efforts have been made to normalize ties between the two countries ever since. The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan. The Armenian armed forces occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan`s territories, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and 7 surrounding districts. Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group - Russia, France, and the U.S. - are currently holding peace negotiations. (AzerTAc).

 

Afghan Villagers Say Air Strike Killed Civilians 12 April Afghan authorities were checking reports on April 13 of civilian casualties from an overnight air strike by U.S.-led forces, after villagers in a remote region said five people had been killed. Civilian deaths caused by foreign troops while hunting the Taliban have sapped support for the presence of Western forces in Afghanistan and become a major cause of friction between the government and its Western backers. "We were having dinner when the attack happened. Five civilians were killed, children among them," village resident Ezatuallah, who uses one name, told Reuters by telephone from Wata Pur, a rugged district in eastern Kunar Province near the Pakistan border. He said ten people were wounded. Zalmai Yousufzai, the district chief, said he was aware of the strike but had no information about casualties. A spokesman for the U.S. military in Kabul said he had no information about the strike but would check. Last week five civilians, including an infant, were killed in a U.S.-led operation in southeastern Khost Province. U.S. forces acknowledged those deaths and apologized. The number of civilians killed in operations by foreign forces while hunting Taliban-led insurgents in Afghanistan has steadily climbed, reaching hundreds last year, according to human right groups and the government. U.S. and NATO commanders say insurgents are still responsible for most civilian deaths, but they have acknowledged that civilian deaths have cost the Western troops support. Violence has surged in recent years with the Taliban having managed to extend the size and scope of their attacks. This comes despite the growing number of foreign forces, now standing at more than 70,000. Some 21,000 more U.S. troops and more than 5,000 soldiers from other NATO countries are on their way. U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban after its leadership refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders wanted by Washington for the September 11, 2001, attacks against the United States. Separately, two Afghan security guards working for a construction firm were killed in a roadside bomb attack in the eastern province of Khost on April 13, a provincial official said. (Reuters)

Saakashvili: Russian Oligarchs Fund Georgia Opposition 12 April In an interview with Newsweek published on April 11, President Saakashvili speaks of sources of opposition funding, about his U.S. friends, his stance of U.S. under Bush and Obama administrations, as well as about being disappointed with the West putting relationships with Georgia on hold while waiting for the outcome of the street protest rallies. Asked who sponsors the Georgian opposition, Saakashvili responded: “Most of the money—millions of dollars—comes from Russian oligarchs. I have documentary proof of that, which I am not making public yet. Whether the money is being sent from Russia under the supervision of the Russian government, that I do not know.” He said that the Russian authorities would “probably be happy to see me leave the post.”Asked what he would change in his policy towards Russia if he could turn time back, Saakashvili responded that he could “hardly do anything differently.”“The values we appreciate are not embraced by Russia. Should I have compromised? If I did, we would have been like Kyrgyzstan, losing our democratic values now, or as poor as Armenia, whose economy fully depends on Russia,” he said. He also said that he was not hurt by the criticism in Georgia. “I am hearing it from two opposition TV channels [Maestro and Kavkasia] all day long,” Saakashvili said. “I did not expect the West to put all the relationships with us on hold while waiting for this revolution. An official delegation from France decided to postpone their visit. A Turkish company moved a scheduled contract signing until after April 9, and an Arab company until April 12. What is the matter with these people? Do we stop going to Paris or Strasbourg during their street protests?” he added. (Civil Georgia)

Turkmen President Orders Investigation into Pipeline Blast 13 April Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has instructed his government to work with international experts to determine who is responsible for an explosion on the main natural gas pipeline between Turkmenistan and Russia last week that cut the flow of gas to Russia. The blast has increased tension between the two countries and could lead to a Ukraine-style "gas war," the Russian daily "Kommersant" reported on April 13. Platts, which provides information on global energy and commodities issues, says Gazprom had asked state energy company Turkmengas to reduce its gas deliveries to Gazprom by 90 percent, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov refused to comment last week on reports that Gazprom had cut the flow of gas, causing a technical problem that led to the explosion. The Turkmen Foreign Ministry said on April 8 that Gazprom without warning sharply reduced the volume of gas being taken from the Turkmen pipeline. Turkmenistan angered Russia during a visit by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov to Moscow last month by refusing to sign a Trans-Turkmen pipeline deal. (RFE/RL)

CASPIAN NATIONS` WORKING GROUPS TO DISCUSS CASPIAN LEGAL STATUS IN MOSCOW

13 April

The 25th meeting of Caspian nations` working groups to define Caspian legal status will be held in Moscow on April 14-15. The working groups will discuss the text of the convention and points unagreed by the sides. Azerbaijan working group is led by Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov. During the Moscow visit, Khalafov will hold a number of bilateral meetings. (AzerTAc)

Arrests Of Afghan Refugees On The Rise In Pakistan 15 April Afghan refugees in Pakistan say that arrests of Afghans are increasing in the country's eastern Punjab Province. Awami National Party spokesman Zahid Khan told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that what the "government is doing against [the ethnic] Pashtuns and Afghans deserves condemnation." Arrests have escalated since Baytullah Mehsoud, Pakistan's Taliban leader, announced that he had sent suicide bombers into the province to attack a military school in Lahore. Pakistani authorities in Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad arrested some 800 Afghans after Mehsoud claimed responsibility for the attack. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees have been living in Pakistan since the 1980s, and the number is now thought to be more than 2 million. (RFE/RL)

 

US seeks transit deal with Turkmenistan

16 April

A senior U.S. diplomat says the United States hopes to reach an agreement with Turkmenistan on allowing the transit of non-lethal goods to neighboring Afghanistan. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher says he discussed the possibility of overland cargo transit and overflights in Wednesday's talks with President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov. The United States has already managed to secure agreements on sending nonmilitary supplies overland through Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan also shares a border with Afghanistan. Worsening security on the Afghan border with Pakistan has forced NATO allies to seek safer transit routes. Boucher also said Thursday the new U.S. administration is placing a greater emphasis on Central Asia. (AP)

 

Uzbekistan does not plan to leave CSTO structure

17 April

Uzbekistan does not plan to leave the structure of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The CSTO Secretary General, Nikolay Bordyuzha, informed during the briefing taken place in Yerevan, RIA RosBusinessConsulting informs citing Arminfo. "There are no bases to say that Uzbekistan plans on leaving the CSTO structure," RBC cites N.Bordyuzha. "Anyway, I do not see any prerequisites in this respect," he said, having added that the representatives of Uzbekistan work in the CSTO working bodies, including on coordination of documents." As informed earlier, Uzbekistan informed on leaving the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC). (Kazakhstan Today)

 

RWE, Turkmenistan deal blow to Gazprom

17 April

Turkmenistan awarded the German partner to the Nabucco gas pipeline, RWE AG, an exploration contract in a move seen as a counter to Russian gas giant Gazprom. RWE spokesman Michael Rosen confirmed the deal to the EurasiaNet reporting agency, saying the measure secures a long-term relationship with Turkmenistan in the European energy sector. "Among other things, the parties have agreed upon investigating and discussing first direct deliveries of natural gas from Turkmenistan to Germany and Europe," RWE said in a statement. Andrei Grozin, head of Central Asian studies at the official Institute of Commonwealth of Independent States in Moscow, said Turkmenistan is moving to position itself as a diverse energy supplier as the region struggles to move away from Russian dependency. "I think (Turkmenistan) is trying to demonstrate its multi-vector politics to Russia, to Europe and to its closest neighbors, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan," he said. "It's trying to intimidate Gazprom." A pipeline from the Dovletabad field along the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan ruptured last week from technical complications resulting from a drop in gas volumes from Gazprom. Turkmenistan lashed out at the gas giant, demanding reparations for alleged contractual violations. (UPI)

 

Russia, China stage war games in Central Asia 18 April China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan took part in war games in the first such exercise since Kyrgyzstan said in February it would shut the last U.S. air base in Central Asia. The Manas base plays an important role in supplying U.S.-led troops fighting in Afghanistan and its closure poses a challenge to plans by President Barack Obama to send additional troops there to fight the growing Taliban insurgency. Russia sees Central Asia as part of its traditional zone of influence and is concerned by the West's growing presence there. About 1,000 soldiers took part in the exercises, 50 kilometers south of the Tajik capital Dushanbe under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Only Uzbekistan declined to take part, saying its special services were occupied by other, preplanned events. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has suggested that the SCO countries should have a stronger say in international efforts to restore peace in Afghanistan. Analysts have said the closure of the Manas base could be interpreted as Moscow's offer to Washington to review the regional rules of the game. The plot of the war games featured "Al-Qaeda" members who had crossed over the border from Afghanistan and captured a chemical factory, taking its workers hostage. (Reuters)

 

Kyrgyzstan’s Manas airport to be civilian airport only

20 April

After the withdrawal of the US airbase, Manas airport will be used for civilian purposes only, Adakhan Madumarov, the secretary of Kyrgyzstan’s Security Council, said on Monday. “The territory of the military base will not be turned over to other subjects. Manas will remain a purely civilian airport,” he told reporters after the meeting with Nikolai Bordyuzha, the secretary-general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), on a visit here. Madumarov said Kyrgyzstan’s leadership “has not received proposals either from the US or from other states to use Manas for transportation of military cargoes to Afghanistan.” Bordyuzha believes the withdrawal of the US airbase from Kyrgyzstan’s territory will not affect security in the Central Asian region. “I don’t think the airbase in Manas had a cardinal effect on the state of security in Central Asia,” Bordyuzha said, answering questions of reporters. He also pointed out that CSTO member countries had made and continued to make contribution to Afghanistan’s post-conflict structure, and Kyrgyzstan’s role was among the most active. Manas airbase was opened in Kyrgyzstan in December 2001 to conduct anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan. In February 2009 Kyrgyzstan completed the procedure of dissolving the treaty on the deployment of a US military contingent at Manas airport and notified the United States officially of its decision. US servicemen must leave Kyrgyzstan’s territory within 180 days since the denunciation of the agreement, approximately in mid-August. The CSTO comprises of Romania, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. (Itar-Tass)

 

Kazakh GDP declines 2% in Q1 - Econ Ministry preliminary data

20 April Kazakhstan's GDP contracted by 2% in the first  quarter  of  2009,  according  to  preliminary  data from the Economics and Budget Planning Ministry. "Provisionally  negative  2%  for the first quarter," Economics and Budget Planning  Minister  Bakhyt  Sultanov told journalists following a government meeting in Astana on Monday. The GDP growth forecast for the full year remains unchanged at 1%. "For  now  the  1% remains. Our goal in the first half is to ensure maximal  absorption  of the funds allocated, so that it reflects on both the results for the first quarter and the second," Sultanov said. Kazakhstan's GDP rose 3.2% in 2008. (Interfax)

Alasania Reiterates Readiness to Meet Saakashvili 20 April The authorities’ refusal on Alliance for Georgia’s proposal to hold a referendum on whether the voters wanted or not early presidential elections “has increased mistrust between the society and the authorities,” Irakli Alasania, the leader of Alliance for Georgia, said. “I think an idea of referendum was much more attractive previously, but now it’s late to a certain extent,” Alasania said in an interview with the Georgian weekly, Kviris Palitra. He again reiterated that the opposition was ready to meet with President Saakashvili and listen to his arguments and proposals of overcoming the current crisis. “This, however, does not at all mean that the opposition is giving up its demand for the President’s resignation,” Alasania said and also added: “Eventually, no matter how things may develop, each of us should remember that the country’s interests are supreme and we should put these interests above of all the demands.” Asked what the compromise might be in case of talks, Alasania responded: “It is impossible to talk in advance what the sides may compromise in the process of negotiations. I think in the face of the current situation, early elections are the only way out from the crisis.” “I want to stress that we are not fighting against personalities, our goal is to change the system, which has brought the country into the crisis. If the meeting takes place with the President, of course, we will have an opportunity to listen what he deems to be the way out from this crisis,” he added. Alasania also said that he had some contacts with Giorgi Baramidze, the state minister for Euro-Atlantic integration issues, to exchange information about security issues related with the opposition protest rallies. (Civil Georgia)

 

Kazakhstan snubs NATO games in support for Russia

21 April

Kazakhstan refused on Tuesday to take part in NATO-organised war games in Georgia in a show of support for Russia, which has bitterly criticised the plan. Russia, which fought a brief war with Georgia last year and strongly opposes its ambition to become a member of NATO, has protested against the alliance's plans to hold a series of exercises near the Georgian capital Tbilisi in May. Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, on Tuesday backed Russia's position by pulling out. "No, we will not take part," Defence Minister Danial Akhmetov told reporters. "We are too busy. Yes, it's our final decision." NATO has said it does not understand why Moscow is upset by the long-planned exercises involving 1,300 troops from 19 countries from May 6 to June 1.This week Russia threatened to call off a meeting of senior military commanders with NATO next month if the alliance went ahead with the exercises, Interfax news agency reported. (Reuters)

Bakradze: ‘Opposition’s Ultimatum will not Lead to Results’ 21 April Demand of those opposition parties, which are behind the ongoing protest rallies, to hold talks on terms of President Saakashvili’s resignation is “an ultimatum” and cannot serve as a basis for a dialogue, Davit Bakradze, the parliamentary chairman, said on April 21. “The radical part of the opposition has once again rejected dialogue and reaffirmed once again its position that they are ready to speak only about an ultimatum,” he said while speaking at a session of parliamentary bureau. “I think that this is a very bad development, because this is not the way that will lead them to any concrete and positive result,” Bakradze continued. “Anyway, this is their choice. I hope that at a certain point they will revise this position and I reaffirm that we are ready for a dialogue with this part of the opposition as well as with separate parties and political leaders in this group.” (Civil Georgia)

 

Georgia FM Downplays Russia’s Reaction on NATO Drills 21 April Georgian Foreign Minister, Grigol Vashadze, said Russian ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin’s remarks on planned NATO exercises were not worth commenting on.“Rogozin is not a person with such an intellectual level that would be worth of being commented by Georgian officials,” he told the Georgian public TV in Stockholm, where he met with his Swedish counterpart, Carl Bildt, on April 20. “As far as Russia’s position on planned NATO exercises is concerned, Georgia has constitutional right to hold whatever exercises we want on our sovereign territory and Russia has no right to have an opinion about it,” he added. “Instead of making comments on NATO exercises in Georgia, Russia would be better if it starts de-occupation of the Georgian territories.” Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, told Russian news channel, Vesti, on April 20 that he had sent a letter to NATO Secretary General explaining Moscow’s position why it should refrain from exercises in Georgia. He said that with NATO-Russian contacts not fully restored yet, the alliance’s exercises in Georgia would trigger Russia’s negative reaction; he also said that NATO’s war games would be perceived as a provocative step in the light of the last August’s war; Rogozin also said that the timing of NATO exercises was also inappropriate aimd ongoing political standoff in Georgia between the authorities and opposition. (Civil Georgia)

 

IMF to Loan Tajikistan $116 Million for Government Programs

22 April

The International Monetary Fund agreed to give a $116 million loan to Tajikistan to help the Central Asian nation cope with a decline in export demand and lower remittances. A deterioration in the global economy has “adversely affected” Tajikistan’s main exports of cotton and aluminum, and threatens to erode gains in poverty reduction, the Washington- based lender said in an April 21 statement. Tajikistan can draw about $38.7 million from the three-year loan immediately, the IMF said. The government has “committed to raising transfers to households in response to the economic crisis, and increasing resource allocations for health and education, even though revenues are expected to decline on account of the crisis,” said the IMF’s first deputy managing editor, John Lipsky. “Authorities are delaying some low-priority investment projects and scrutinizing current expenditures carefully” to meet deficit targets. Economic growth in the Caucasus and Central Asia will slow by two-thirds this year as exports recede and money sent from citizens abroad shrink, the IMF predicted last month. A slowdown in Russia is spilling over into countries including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, the fund said. (Bloomberg)

 

Kyrgyz Village Leaders Taken Hostage by Uzbeks 22 April

The leaders of two Kyrgyz villages were briefly taken hostage by Uzbek farmers, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports. Sabira Musaeva, a witness from the village of Boz near the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border, told RFE/RL that inhabitants of village of Khushiyar, across the border in Uzbekistan, began throwing stones at Kyrgyz vehicles crossing the border and then blocked the Batken-Sogment highway. The heads of the Kyrgyz villages of Kyshtut and Sogment came to resolve the standoff but were abducted by Uzbek villagers, Musaeva said. They were released three hours after regional governors came to negotiate. Dastan Khodjaev, governor of Kyrgyzstan's Batken district, says the problem was caused by disagreements over livestock pastures. National borders in Central Asia are often unmarked and the territory disputed, causing problems for locals living in the border region. (RFE/RL)

 

Three soldiers killed in Chechnya attack

22 April

Three servicemen died in Russia's North Caucasus republic of Chechnya after their vehicle came under fire, a police source said on Wednesday. The attack occurred on Tuesday in southern Chechnya's Achkhoi-Martan region. A police official said a search was underway for the assailants. The counter-terrorism operation in Chechnya was officially concluded on April 16, almost ten years after its inception. The Russian government's decision to end the operation will entail the withdrawal of tens of thousands of troops from the region. Russian military officials said earlier this week that militant activity in Chechnya had sharply increased since the announcement, and that militants were organizing a network of bases. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has dismissed the report. (RIA Novosti)

 

USA welcomed initiative of Kazakh President to host international bank of nuclear fuel

22 April

The USA welcomed the initiative of the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to host the international bank of nuclear fuel in the territory of Kazakhstan, the agency reports citing the president's press service. According to the press service, the State Secretary of Kazakhstan, Kanat Saudabaev, met American Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Security Affairs, Joseph Benkert.  "Close bilateral cooperation in strengthening of security in nuclear and biological spheres is being carried out. The USA welcomed the initiative of the President of Kazakhstan to host in the territory of our country the international bank of nuclear fuel under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) aegis in case of creation of such a structure," the press service informs. (Kazakhstan Today)

 

U.S. Says NATO Georgia Exercises ‘not Provocative’ 22 April NATO’s planned multinational exercises in Georgia are “not provocative” and “we believe that they’re important to go forward, and we’re going to do so,” Robert Wood, an acting spokesman for the U.S. Department of State, said on April 21. “The NATO exercises are a normal part of NATO’s relationship with Georgia,” he said. “And the purpose of these exercises is to help Georgia meet NATO standards. I know there have been reports about Russia being concerned about these exercises. These exercises are no threat to Russia, to anybody else, and they’ve been in the planning stages for a long time.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused members of Nato of reverting to the "confrontational logic of the Cold War". In an interview with the BBC Russian service on April 21, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said that NATO was reverting to the “confrontational logic of the Cold War.” He said that the roots of the diplomatic hostility lay in NATO’s “unilateral position” on the August war. Lavrov said the alliance members refused “to even debate the reasons for the conflict.” Nineteen NATO-member and partner countries were initially to take part in the exercises, which will take place from May 6 to June 1 in Vaziani military base, twenty kilometers east of Tbilisi. On April 21, after Russia’s protests, however, Kazakhstan said that it would not take part. Other countries planning to participate are: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Moldova, Serbia, Spain, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States. (Civil Georgia)
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