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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

CENTRAL ASIA: Weekly news wrap

ANKARA, 13 June 2003 (IRIN) - Three people died and three others were reported missing after torrential rains struck the mountainous northern areas of Tajikistan at the end of last week. According to the United Nations, the three were killed after mud-slides ripped through the Panjakent District of Sughd Province, 200 km north of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. Over 100 homes were said to have been destroyed, leaving scores homeless.

On 7 June, the president of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly, Bruce George, ended the Trans Asian Parliamentary Forum in Almaty, Kazakhstan, with a final statement summarising its main conclusions. The main goal of the forum, which brought together more than 90 parliamentarians from 25 OSCE-participating states, was to raise awareness and increase parliamentary dialogue on security issues in the OSCE's Trans-Asian dimension.

"We need to constantly assess the methods we are using in the fight against terrorism, and remain ever so vigilant about the dangerous tendency to limit people's rights in the effort to enhance security," said George, adding that the imposition of limitations on fundamental freedoms and human rights in exchange for greater security was not a sacrifice to be made.

Echoing this view, OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis urged Central Asian countries to persevere in instituting political and democratic reforms, maintaining that control over civil society had become excessively rigorous in some of the five former Soviet states. "Particularly, this relates to some political parties, religious associations, human-rights activists and nongovernmental organisations," he said.

With regard to security issues and the problems of conflict, Fikret Akcura, the representative of the UN Development Programme in Kazakhstan, commended Kazakhstan’s initiative to establish a centre for preventing conflicts and preventive diplomacy in Almaty under UN auspices. "We hope that this centre, when it will be set up, will closely work with the region’s governments and organisations to strengthen security," he said.

Meanwhile, the dual citizenship row between Turkmenistan and Russia continued this week with little show of resolution for the 100,000 Russians living in Central Asia’s most reclusive, but gas-rich, nation. Moscow said on Monday that it deemed illegal Ashgabat’s decision to annul its dual-citizenship agreement with Russia, and would continue to regard Russian citizens in Turkmenistan as its own.

The ongoing debate follows an agreement between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmyrat Niyazov, in April to annul their 1993 agreement. However, the Turkmen leader then surprised Russia with an order on 22 April giving local Russian residents just two months to choose which of the two nationalities they wished to retain.

In the context of health matters, Uzbekistan unilaterally closed all its border checkpoints with Tajikistan in a move against the spread of SARS. "Based on sanitary and quarantine measures to prevent the threat of SARS coming into the country, the Uzbek government has decided to limit the passage of Tajik vehicles and citizens to Uzbekistan until 1 July 2003," Boris Sarikayev, the head of the border control department of the Tajik State Border Protection Committee, reportedly told Tajik Asia-Plus news agency.

Staying in the region, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lynn Pascoe continued her tour, meeting senior government officials. That Washington is attaching increasingly greater importance to Central Asia is illustrated by the fact that the US is constructing two new diplomatic compounds in the capitals of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. On Wednesday, the US named Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as two of the 15 countries which had failed to do enough to stop the trafficking of people forced into servitude or the sex trade.

Meanwhile, activists from Freedom House, an advocacy group working to promote the worldwide expansion of political and economic freedoms, are continuing their tour of the region, with the group's head, Jennifer Windsor, arriving in Tashkent on 7 June. The local press there reported that Freedom House would open a second office in the Ferghana valley, in Namangan.

Kazakh Prime Minister Imangali Tasmagambetov resigned on Wednesday after a prolonged battle with the country’s parliament over a land-reform bill proposing to legitimise private land ownership. After its rejection by parliament, Tasmagambetov accused the legislators of having falsified the vote count, and this had led to his resignation, according to local media. In Kazakhstan, all land is owned by the state, but reformists believe private ownership will spur development. On Friday, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev appointed Daniyal Akhmetov, the former governor of Pavlodar Region, as the country’s new prime minister.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Other



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