Uzbekistan has released four citizens of Kyrgyzstan it detained last month during an ongoing border dispute standoff, ratcheting down the tension between the countries.
Kyrgyzstan’s border service said on September 9 that that men were released by the Uzbek police following negotiations.
The four were reportedly in good health.
“Our health is fine. We are experiencing no problems and they looked after us well. Everything is good,” one of the released men, Zhenish Tashmatov, told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service.
While that takes the sting out of the situation, the dispute that precipitated the men’s detention continues to rumble on.
Kyrgyz border guards have said around 20 Uzbek police officers are still occupying the telecommunications relay tower on Ungar-Too mountain where the four Kyrgyz men were detained. An Mi-8 helicopter carrying seven Uzbek policemen landed on Ungar-Too on August 22.
Ungar-Too is nominally one of the disputed chunks of territory, although the real prize for Tashkent is the Kasan-Sai reservoir, which is operated and de facto controlled by Uzbekistan, despite being several kilometers inside Kyrgyzstan.
Access to Kasan-Sai is currently blocked by Kyrgyz police checkpoints and another line of Uzbek defenses at the facility itself. At the site, there are numerous houses inhabited by Uzbek technicians and their families. Uzbekistan is aggrieved that it is not being given free and unfettered access to the reservoir, to which it holds territorial claims, by Kyrgyzstan.
Other than Uzbekistan, few are eager to see the formation of yet another enclave on the fringes of the Fergana Valley, which is what Tashkent’s desired outcome would entail.
A winner has been declared in Uzbekistan’s succession sweepstakes: a joint session of the Uzbek parliament on September 8 confirmed Shavkat Mirziyoyev as the country’s interim president.
Mirziyoyev, the incumbent prime minister, had been a front runner to take power after it was announced on September 2 that long-time leader Islam Karimov had died from an apparent stroke. Technically, a special presidential election must be held within three months according to Uzbekistan’s constitution, but Mirziyoyev’s victory seems all but assured now that he can wield all the levers of executive authority and tilt the playing field in his favor.
A government statement issued September 8 noted that lawmakers endorsed Mirziyoyev’s succession because he is seen as someone who can ensure “the provision of public security and law and order, and the effective resolution of highly important issues in the ... political and socioeconomic development of the country.”
That the announcement of Mirziyoyev’s appointment came six days after the news of Karimov’s death was released suggests that the political transition was far from smooth, and that there still may be substantial opposition to his rule from within Uzbekistan’s political elites.
The parliamentary endorsement of Mirziyoyev as interim president put an end to the brief tenure of Senate Chairman Nigmatilla Yuldashev as acting chief executive. Although never formally appointed, Yuldashev, in his legislative capacity, was, according to the constitution, the rightful interim president until a special election could determine Karimov’s successor. Yuldashev during the power vacuum fulfilled some formal executive functions.
In a surprising shakeup of Kazakhstan’s leadership, prime minister Karimov Masimov was on September 8 moved sideways and appointed head of the security services.
In a decree confirming that appointment, President Nursultan Nazarbayev named the up-and-coming Bakytzhan Sagintayev to head up the government, albeit only in an interim capacity for now.
It is not immediately obvious what motivated the personnel shuffle, but the position of Vladimir Zhumakanov, the outgoing head of the National Security Committee, or KNB, has been in question since a spate of fatal shootings in the western city of Aktobe in June.
This spells the end of Masimov’s second stint as prime minister. He served as head of government in 2007 and fill that post until 2012, after which he headed the presidential administration. He was again named prime minister in April 2014.
His removal as head of the Cabinet has been predicted for months, but that he would be appointed head of the security services is something few can have expected. It has long been rumored, although never officially confirmed, that Masimov had a background in the secret services in the Soviet era, so the transition may not be as surprising as it seems.
Political commentator Marat Shibutov told news and analysis website 365info.kz that he believed the move was only temporary.
“He will remain one of the most influential people in the country and close to the president. So you cannot write him off. This is just a temporary disappearance into the shadows,” Shibutov said.
Shibutov estimated that Masimov would occupy his KNB post for around one year.
The president of Tajikistan this week granted a rare reprieve to a jailed member of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party.
As Zarafo Rahmoni told RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, on September 7, the politician was not released as part of an amnesty but is being pardoned outright.
Rahmoni was one — the only female — among the IRPT leadership jailed in 2015 on charges of involvement in an alleged attempted coup last September.
“A few months ago, I wrote a letter to the president of Tajikistan and I was certain that he would listen to the requests of a woman. And so he has pardoned me, for which I am grateful,” the 44-year old Rahmoni said.
Rahmoni said she was in good health but would need some time to recover from her experience in detention. Her activities in the IRPT focused on legal affairs, and she stood for parliament on three occasions.
She was sentenced to two-and-half years in jail for failure to disclose information to the authorities. But in May, news website Tojnews claimed Rahmoni was the only arrested IRPT member to provide evidence against fellow party members. Rahmoni is reported to have stated that she was forced into becoming an IRPT member through threats of violence and that the party was plotting violent acts of insurgency.
In the absence of concrete evidence underpinning such claims, it is unwise to give them excessive credence. It is however important to note that Tajik police and investigators are widely accused by rights groups of using torture, intimidation tactics and threats against family members as ways of extorting confessions. Female suspects are said to face threats of rape while in custody.
Uzbekistan has landed more police helicopters at the disputed Ungar-Too mountain on the border with Kyrgyzstan in a sign of Tashkent looking to cement its position in an ongoing standoff.
Kyrgyzstan’s border service said that on September 2 that the helicopter brought drinking water for around 15 to 20 Uzbek policemen stationed at the mountain, which is the site of a relay station for Kyrgyz communications companies.
An Mi-8 helicopter carrying Uzbek policemen first landed on Ungar-Too on August 22. The police officers shortly afterward detained four Kyrgyz citizens working at the relay facility, accusing them of being there illegally.
Kyrgyzstan says it has sent reinforcements to the area in a bid to pressure the Uzbek police to leave the site, but to no avail. Uzbekistan is reportedly holding firm until Kyrgyzstan removes its checkpoints to Kasan-Sai reservoir. That facility is a few kilometers inside Kyrgyzstan but is claimed by the Uzbeks, who point to the fact that they built the reservoir in Soviet times and continued to maintain it ever since as grounds for their position. Water from the reservoir is used to irrigate crops in villages in Uzbekistan’s crowded Fergana Valley.
The continued stalemate — particularly around the fate of the four jailed Kyrgyz men — is provoking much distress among activists and politicians inside Kyrgyzstan.
The Committee for Civic Control, a coalition 70 nongovernment groups, has appealed to the government to intensify its search for a solution to “avoid any self-initiated acts by citizens that could lead to an even greater escalation on the border.”
An announcement on the death of Uzbekistan’s president appears imminent as a host of signs suggest funeral preparations are afoot in Islam Karimov’s native Samarkand.
Reuters news agency on September 3 cited three diplomatic sources as saying Karimov had died of a stroke, the strongest confirmation so far of a fact that Uzbekistan’s government has been staunchly denying.
More subtle hints have been coming out of Samarkand. Residents in that city have told EurasiaNet.org that the city, and particularly the central and historic Registan square, is being cleaned and prepared for some major event. The word has also been put around that city’s men should have their white shirts, black suits and tyubeteika skull caps on standby. The expectation is that a funeral will take place on September 3.
Uzbekistan’s state media still perversely sticks to its line that Karimov is ill, although government newspaper Halk Suzi noted in its September 2 issue that the leader was in a “critical condition.”
In another certain giveaway, Reuters cited a source in Kazakhstan’s government as saying President Nursultan Nazarbayev is preparing to go to Uzbekistan on September 3, cutting short a trip to China. The Chinese visit was meant to last from September 1 through September 5.
Kyrgyzstan’s president struck a sour and far from statesmanlike note during independence day celebrations on August 31 by using a public address to condemn his critics and promote contentious changes to the constitution.
In a series of vitriolic verbal broadsides delivered on a stage in the center of Bishkek, Almazbek Atambayev found time to lash out at a number of the erstwhile political allies with whom he helped grab power from former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in the 2010 revolution. He reserved particular animus for Roza Otunbayeva, who served as interim president after Bakiyev’s overthrow, prompting her to storm off the stage in disgust.
The president’s choleric disposition was brought on by a statement issued on the eve of independence day by the members of the 2010 interim government that pleaded with the government to desist from pursuing amendments to the constitution. Plans currently taking shape envision a referendum in the fall on the amendments, which would see the office of the prime minister broaden its powers — a measure that many suspect is designed to bolster the position of elites surrounding the one-term president. Another particularly controversial change would enshrine vaguely defined “supreme state values” that critics fear would dilute the value of individual human rights in deference to concepts like “love of the Motherland,” “respect for the elderly” and “the accommodation of tradition and progress.”
Atambayev spared no bile for the members of the interim government, which Otunbayeva led.
A car packed with explosives was rammed into China’s Embassy in Kyrgyzstan on August 30 in what appears to be an unprecedented terrorist attack.
Authorities have reported that one person, the attacker, was killed and three embassy employees were injured.
Police said that at around 9:33 am, a Mitsubishi-Delica smashed through the embassy and that an explosion was set off inside the grounds of the mission.
Deputy Prime Minister Zhenish Razzakov told reporters that the bomber “rammed the gate, kept going for 40 or 50 meters, and then detonated the car.” According to preliminary estimates, the blast had a TNT equivalent of 100 kilograms of TNT.
Police say the attacker was the only person killed. The alleged bomber’s identity has not been established.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Elena Bayalinova wrote on her Facebook page that the two of the injured embassy workers sustained concussions and fragment wounds, but that their condition was satisfactory. Another injured embassy employee traveled to the hospital under her own steam.
Residents in the south of Bishkek reported hearing a massive blast.
"At 9.35 am today, a loud blast nearly shook me off my chair at home. I went to the window and saw a mushroom of dust over the Chinese embassy. The loudest sound I've ever encountered, it was a scary experience”, wrote Facebook user Usha Rajak, who published a picture of the aftermath of the explosion from her apartment block nearby.
Photos of the aftermath show scenes of utter destruction from the Chinese Embassy building. Debris is scattered all around the grounds of the embassy. Some nearby residents reported shards from the embassy blast landing on their property.
Authorities in Kyrgyzstan declared August 29 a day of mourning for 14 citizens of the country killed in a blaze at warehouse in Moscow over the weekend.
At least 17 people died in total as a result of the fire caused by a short circuit at the Pechatny Express printing house on Altufevo Shosse in Moscow.
The tragedy has provoked much shock inside Kyrgyzstan, where people are once again reflecting on the high price paid by people forced by economic hardship to work in dangerous conditions abroad.
Most of those killed were women, many of them in their late teens. One was reportedly pregnant. Witnesses said how people trapped in their building cried for help as the flames spread.
Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that exits out of the warehouse were blocked and that during the fire, rescue workers had to smash an entrance through the wall.
But some witnesses have criticized rescue workers, accusing them of failing to act promptly. One Kyrgyz woman interviewed by Russian television station REN Tv said that firefighters made no real effort to put out the blaze or assist people trapped in the building.
It is the same woman’s closing words that have generated most clamor inside Kyrgyzstan, however, directed as they were at the government.
“I want to talk to our corrupt leaders. If our country was normal, we would not even have had to come here, we would have worked at home. You’re idiots, you know!” she sobbed, her voice broken with anger.
Kyrgyzstan was quick in organizing assistance for relatives of the victims of the fire. A government task force to deal with the fallout of the tragedy has been headed by deputy prime minister Gulmira Kudauberdiyeva.
Uzbekistan’s control over a communications relay station on a disputed mountain on the border with Kyrgyzstan leaves the latter vulnerable to being cut off from mobile, internet and broadcasting services.
Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for Information Technology and Communication sought to reassure the public on August 25, however, with a statement saying that transmission of radio and television stations had not been disrupted by the situation at Kerben station on Ungar-Too mountain.
An Mi-8 helicopter carrying seven Uzbek policemen landed on Ungar-Too on August 22. The police officers shortly afterward detained four Kyrgyz citizens working at the relay facility, accusing them of being there illegally.
The Kyrgyz communications agency met with representatives from major telephony and broadcasting companies to coordinate on the fallout of the standoff.
“According to information given by communications providers, at 1500 hours [on August 25] telephone, mobile, internet, as well as state television and radio transmissions, in analogue and digital formats, at Kerben were being carried out as normal,” the agency said in its statement.
That is only half reassuring though, since the Uzbeks could presumably suspend signals being relayed by Kerben at will. There is no immediately available public information about the reach of territory covered by retransmission services at the Kerben station.