Bishkek Deputies Reject Uzbek Treaty

Kyrgyz parliamentarians say military pact with Uzbekistan undermines the country's national security interests.

Bishkek Deputies Reject Uzbek Treaty

Kyrgyz parliamentarians say military pact with Uzbekistan undermines the country's national security interests.

Parliamentary deputies, normally a docile lot, have unexpectedly thrown out a treaty on military cooperation with Uzbekistan, saying it would give Uzbek troops license to march across the border and harass Kyrgyz citizens.

The Kyrgyz and Uzbek heads of state signed the treaty on September 27, 2000, just as Kyrgyzstan was recovering from a second incursion of Islamic militants into the south of the country.

Azimbek Beknazarov, a deputy representing a southern Kyrgyz constituency, told IWPR that should the accord come into force, there was no doubt Uzbek troops would move into Kyrgyzstan on the slightest pretext.

The treaty, he said, gives both parties the right to deploy troops in each other's territory to fight terrorists, whenever the need arises. But Beknazarov suspects the deal benefits Tashkent more than Bishkek.

"I think my colleagues are right when they say this document was drafted in Uzbekistan which then blackmailed our leaders into signing," he said.

Beknazarov and his colleagues believe that President Akayev signed the treaty in return for Karimov's support in other matters. They also detect that the move was an attempt by the Kyrgyz president to court the votes of the country's 500,000-strong Uzbek community, which carries a lot of weight in elections.

Meanwhile, defence minister Esen Topoev went out of his way to persuade the deputies that the treaty was in keeping with the region's current political situation and Bishkek's national security interests. He claimed that it would create a solid groundwork for settling outstanding border disputes between the two nations and in combating all sorts of terrorist groups.

Curiously, deputy Omurbek Tekebayev, normally considered an opposition hard-liner by his fellow parliamentarians, also said the treaty was mostly in line with Kyrgyzstan's national security.

"In the south, most Kyrgyz ground and air communication routes traverse Uzbek territory," he said. "When the external threat increases, our armed forces have to change location very often. We may be putting ourselves at a disadvantage by refusing to cooperate with Uzbekistan. If the treaty were ratified our troops would be free to move across Uzbek territory at will. I really think we should accept it."

Nevertheless, most deputies voted against the accord. To an extent, they were influenced by a report from the Kyrgyz parliamentary human rights commissioner Oksana Malevanaya, who cited numerous instances of discrimination against Kyrgyz nationals by Uzbek authorities.

Even the most loyal pro-Akayev deputies, who usually lobby for all governmental initiatives, succumbed to the impassioned patriotic speeches of deputies Tursunbai Bakir and Adaham Madumarov.

"Uzbekistan bombed a Kyrgyz village in 1999. Then they mined the Kyrgyz side

of the border in Kyrgyzstan's Batken region," argued Madumarov. "This

has given a lot of grief to our fellow countrymen. They are being humiliated

in every way at Uzbek border checkpoints. And it does not look like anyone is going to apologise.

"How much longer can we tolerate this kind of treatment from a nation that both ignores international norms and fails to appreciate its neighbour's friendship? I believe we should rethink our policy in such a way that no one would be able to humiliate us as a sovereign state."

The treaty rejection may entail a cooling-off in Kyrgyzstan's relations with its neighbours. Meanwhile, the matter stirred up feverish speculation about the deputies' motives.

Some analysts suggested it was highly unlikely the deputies would have had enough

courage to reject the treaty of their own accord, unless given a secret go-ahead by the authorities. The fact that pro-government deputies inexplicably joined opposition colleagues in denouncing the accord strengthens this view. The deputies insisted that their decision was taken independently, in good faith and solely in the interests of national security.

Analysts well versed in the backroom intricacies of Kyrgyz politics suggested another scenario. Freshly back from their summer vacation, the deputies had decided to move fast to get ahead of the game. The theory is that deputies had been incensed that during their vacation the pro-government media had been busy denouncing them as unconscionable thieves routinely stealing from the government .

Meanwhile, military cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan will continue despite the parliamentary decision. The two countries' presidents signed a treaty on this as far back as 1996, and it is still in force. In addition, their armed forces are working together as part of the Shanghai Organisation for Cooperation which Tashkent joined this year. Analysts therefore believe the Kyrgyz parliament's action is unlikely to affect the Central Asian geopolitical process in any serious way.

Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC stringer in Bishkek.

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