Kyrgyzstan’s Kumtor gold mine is responsible for some 12 percent of the country’s GDP. Nevertheless, or perhaps for that reason, politicians can’t seem to keep their hands off it.
This week, following a parliamentary commission report describing environmental damage in and around the high-altitude mine, deputies began debating whether to revoke Kumtor’s operating license. Centerra Gold Inc, which runs Kumtor and is one-third owned by Bishkek, believes the report’s “findings are without merit.” But the debate, and lingering proposals for nationalization, wreaked havoc on Centerra’s stock: It plunged over 30 percent in Toronto. Once again, Centerra’s headaches doing business in Kyrgyzstan provide a cautionary tale for potential investors.
It’s a high-stakes debate: Falling production at the 4,000-meter mine, linked to a strike in February, has already cut projections for Kyrgyzstan’s growth this year from 7.5 percent to 1.8 percent.
The arguments in parliament – including one proposal to have Centerra pay revenues to the Kyrgyz state five years in advance – will do little to encourage investors who find Kyrgyzstan’s relentless political turmoil hard to stomach. Moreover, this isn’t the first time in Kumtor’s long history that Kyrgyz politicians have talked nationalization, or threatened to rip up existing agreements. Centerra has faced regular problems over the years, including sudden tax hikes and Kyrgyz demands for a larger share of the company, which also operates a mine in Mongolia.
A spokesman at Kyrgyzstan’s Interior Ministry has acknowledged that only about half of the small arms that went missing during the country’s 2010 political and ethnic violence have been accounted for. The “huge number” of weapons floating about is “enough to carry out another revolution in the country,” believes the chairman of parliament’s defense and security committee.
Bishkek’s 24.kg news agency reported this week that security forces lost about 1,200 small arms and light weapons – including assault rifles, grenade launchers and pistols – during the political violence that unseated President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on April 7, 2010, and during ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in and around Osh that June. (Some reports have said security forces distributed guns and armored vehicles to ethnic Kyrgyz, or at least did little to stop violent gangs from commandeering them.) Though 24.kg’s numbers don’t quite add up, the report says only 49 percent of the 1,177 arms lost have been returned, and authorities fear many of the rest may be available on the black market.
There, an unused Makarov pistol goes for about $1,500; a Kalashnikov (AK-47) for about $1,000; and grenades for a rocket-propelled (RPG) launcher cost between $300 and $500 a pop, says 24.kg. A Dragunov sniper rifle, which can hit a target 800 meters away, costs about $4,000, according to the agency.
UPDATE: On June 14 Asia-Plus reported, and local users confirm, the site is again available in Tajikistan.
Authorities in Tajikistan blocked access on June 12 to a widely read, independent online news service.
Dushanbe-based Asia-Plus is still publishing at news.tj with the help of proxy servers, but the content is not available to Internet users in Tajikistan. Users can, however, continue to access the site’s content on Asia-Plus’ Facebook page or through widely available proxy servers.
The head of the state agency in charge of IT and telecommunications, Beg Zukhurov, reportedly told Asia-Plus that the site was blocked because editors refused to pull comments that included slander and insults aimed at high-placed officials.
The website took down one comment Zukhurov found objectionable and he promised the site would be unblocked soon.
Asia-Plus regularly publishes material critical of the government of President Emomali Rakhmon, who has been in office since 1992. While the government jams some foreign news sites, it has not yet blocked such a prominent local source of news. The comments section of Asia-Plus is often full of wild innuendo and libelous anonymous commentary, as are comments sections on news sites around the world. Perhaps a reader wrote something that struck a particular nerve?
American airmen at the Manas Transit Center outside of Bishkek could be smuggling drugs on their military planes, says a senior Kyrgyz official, and their cargoes should be subject to inspection by Kyrgyz authorities.
The recommendation came from the head of Kyrgyzstan’s drug control agency, Vitaly Orozaliyev, who was speaking before a parliamentary committee on June 5, 24.kg reported.
According to Orozaliyev, under current agreements neither the cargo that comes to Manas, nor its workers, are subject to searches. “Yes, there’s been information about narcotics. We have held talks with our Russian and American colleagues about this and believe it would be right to raise the issue of searching cargo shipments coming into the transit center.”
It’s been known to happen elsewhere.
Maybe Orozaliyev has seen “American Gangster,” the 2007 Ridley Scott film based on the true story of Frank Lucas. Lucas collaborated with American troops in Vietnam to ship home high-quality heroin (in coffins of dead servicemen) and build a narcotics empire in New York in the 1970s.
Since then, the heart of the heroin industry has shifted from Southeast Asia to Afghanistan, which now produces over 90 percent of the world’s opiates. And the trade in Afghan heroin through Central Asia is worth billions of dollars. So at the tail end of another disastrous war in an opium-rich region, it’s not hard to follow Orozaliyev’s logic.
It’s rare the West has anything nice to say about the state of press freedom in Tajikistan. But this week, Dushanbe got some deserved praise.
On May 31, the lower house of parliament unanimously approved the president’s March proposal to remove libel and insult from the criminal code, and make them administrative offenses carrying fines but no jail time. The senate and the president must still approve the change.
“I welcome President Emomali Rakhmon’s initiative and the Parliament’s subsequent steps to decriminalize defamation. Once implemented, they will help safeguard freedom of expression and freedom of the media in Tajikistan,” said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatović.
Tajik prosecutors regularly use libel charges to silence critical journalists, selectively interpreting legal provisions as necessary, says Freedom House. “Independent journalism has been marginalized” under Rakhmon, the watchdog wrote in its latest report on press freedom in Tajikistan. Moreover, “journalists who criticize authorities or expose government corruption continue to report threats and intimidation.” Last month, a television presenter in Dushanbe was attacked and hospitalized shortly after announcing a new project to report on cronyism and corruption.
Don’t laugh yet, but Tajiks are suddenly the envy of beer drinkers across the United Kingdom.
Tajikistan serves the cheapest lager anywhere, London’s Daily Mail has reported. In the northern town of Khujand, a pint costs a “mouthwatering” 29 pence (about $0.45). In the capital, Dushanbe, it’s only a few cents more. Beer lovers in Tajikistan pay even less than their counterparts in Burundi and North Korea, says the paper.
The data come from pintprice.com, a crowdsourcing project where users around the world share their local beer prices. The site describes its statistics as “an important economic indicator.”
EurasiaNet.org can confirm that half a liter (just a tad more than a pint) of Dushanbinskoye sourced directly from the Pivzavod (brewery) in the center of the capital does cost only $0.40 as reported. And if you’re reading this in Greenland (the most expensive place to have a pint at $11.50) or the UK ($4.54), cover those tearful eyes: One regular visitor to the Pivzavod has the nerve to complain that the price has doubled over the past two years. (Costlier imports are still cheaper than British brews, with a 50cl bottle of Russian beer at a Dushanbe café setting you back approximately $2.10 and at the fanciest joints about $3.75. Wholesale, at the train station, that bottle is about $1.)
A new report by the United Nations drug agency sheds light on the nuts and bolts of narcotics transit from Afghanistan through Central Asia, highlighting the former Soviet republics’ lackluster efforts at interdiction.
The 106-page report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), released this month, describes how smugglers traffic heroin and opium from Afghanistan, the world’s largest producer, to Russia, the world’s largest consumer. Ninety tons of highly pure heroin, roughly a quarter of the substance exiting Afghanistan, passes through Central Asia annually. Yet in 2010 authorities in the region seized less than 3 percent of it. And despite international efforts to help, that number keeps falling.
Central Asia’s entrenched corruption makes the region a perfect smuggling route, says the report. Senior officials are complicit in the trade, or at least take bribes to look the other way, especially in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. A lack of cooperation among neighbors also offers a boon to traffickers.
The stakes are huge.
“UNODC estimates that in 2010 drug traffickers in Central Asia made a net profit of $1.4 billion from heroin sales. Much of this profit was likely incurred by Tajik traffickers, given that Tajikistan is estimated to handle most of the flow,” said the report. They profit by marking up the heroin by as much as 600 percent once it gets to Russia. Between 70 and 75 percent of the drugs travel by road, leaving a trail of new addicts across Central Asia.
Perhaps this one was a little too close to home in Dushanbe.
Movie theaters in Tajikistan -- a country ranked “not free” by Freedom House, where men are forced to shave their beards and the government spends millions on vanity projects while half the population lives on less than $2 a day -- will not be showing Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest film, “The Dictator.”
The spoof -- which follows an eccentric and brutal Gaddafi-style autocrat, Admiral-General Omar Aladeen (played by Cohen), on his misadventure-filled visit to New York -- conflicts with the “mentality” of the people, a film distributor in Dushanbe told Kloop.kg.
According to the news site, the film was to premiere on May 17 in the rest of Central Asia, save for Turkmenistan – whose parody-worthy late dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov (Turkmenbashi), could have easily provided some inspiration for Cohen.
Daler Davlatov, a sales manager from the company Tantan, identified by Kloop as the sole distributor of new foreign films in Tajikistan, told the news site that Tajikistan shouldn’t be compared with “Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and other countries […] because our mentality, as you know yourself, is different. That’s the only reason we didn’t include ‘The Dictator’ in the list of premieres.”
Other than Davlatov, movie industry insiders contacted by Kloop declined to comment on “The Dictator.”
Over the past year, human rights activists in Kyrgyzstan have directed increasing attention at bride kidnapping. Though illegal, and notoriously difficult to quantify, the practice is thought to be widespread, especially in rural areas.
Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun, who says legislators are little interested in the issue, announced today that up to 8,000 Kyrgyz girls are kidnapped and forced into marriage annually.
Few statistics on bride kidnapping are available, and it’s unclear how Akun did his research, but one study last year found that 45 percent of women married in the eastern town of Karakol in 2010 and 2011 had been non-consensually kidnapped.
As Azita Ranjbar reported last week, many of the girls are pressured into marriage and have little recourse to justice.
Although bride kidnapping is illegal under Article 155 of Kyrgyzstan’s Criminal Code, prosecutions are almost unheard of. The state can intervene only if a complaint is filed directly by the victim. But, in many bride-kidnapping cases, the woman is isolated within the home of the abductor, and must overcome daunting obstacles to contact her relatives or the police. Even if her family is aware that she has been kidnapped, they are usually powerless to press charges against the abductor on behalf of the woman. In conservative villages, opposing a bride kidnapping can also bring the family shame.
Moreover, many victims have few legal rights because local religious leaders, rather than the state, certify their marriage ceremonies. Without a government-issued marriage certificate, the courts can do little to protect a woman and her children should she try to leave her husband.