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China Nibbles Away at Kyrgyz Border

A government plan to hand over chunks of Kyrgyz border territory to China has angered parliamentary deputies
By Igor Grebenshchikov

Kyrgyz parliamentary deputies last week rebelled against government plans to hand over stretches of border territory to China. At a session on June 19, they challenged agreements concluded with Beijing in 1996 and 1999.Their prospects, however, seem slim.


The deputies had been emboldened by their success a month ago in blocking an agreement to hand over a strip of land on the country's western border to Uzbekistan - providing the latter access to the Uzbek Sokh enclave. But officials have made clear this will not set a precedent. President Akaev, these officials say, has no intention of going back on the China land deals and upsetting Kyrgyzstan's mighty neighbour.


Government representatives have told IWPR that the deal with China was legitimate and is in Kyrgyzstan's interests. "We have managed to retain the major part of disputed territories," said Askar Aitmatov, head of international policy department. "I do not agree that we made concessions against our national interest."


Other experts challenge this. They argue that the government is sacrificing territorial integrity in order to maintain China's friendship. The dissident deputies say there is no evidence that the territories handed to Beijing were ever disputed at all. "Despite our repeated requests to inspect official documents that would confirm the disputed status of these specific territories none have been produced," said Ismail Isakov, chairman of the parliamentary security committee. "That means that there are no such documents."


Deputy Azimbek Beknazarov thinks the land transfers testify to the skill of Beijing diplomats. "The Chinese introduced the term 'disputed territories' only in 1994," he said. "But on December 27, 1992, Beijing recognised Kyrgyzstan within its existing borders."


Salamat Alamanov, chairman of the state commission on demarcation and delimitation, lodged a defence of the transfers, "Having now settled territorial issues, Kyrgyzstan has for the first time acquired a legal 1000 kilometer-long frontier with China, which guarantees the security of our country." In the course of eight years, Bishkek and Beijing have completed two frontier agreements, in 1996 and 1999.


The deputies charged that parts of the negotiations violated Kyrgyz legislation. "The 1999 agreement was ratified illegally" said deputy Azimbek Beknazarov. " Foreign minister Muratbek Imanaliev misled deputies by swearing that not a single centimetre of Kyrgyz land would be transferred to China. As for the second agreement it should be pointed out that this was not properly passed by parliament. The president signed it before it could be discussed."


The deputies called for frontier demarcation work to be suspended. But Beknazarov admitted that without presidential support such moves would fail. Iskakov was equally pessimistic. "Should the demarcation posts be driven in it will be forever," he said.


Some observers say those who oppose the transfers should be mindful of provoking Beijing. Bishek can no longer rely on Moscow to defend its interests. Moreover, Russia and China are strategic partners nowadays.


Foreign Minister Muratbek Imanaliev declared, "The absence of a legally validated frontier causes various conflicts, confrontation and local military clashes. It is vitally important for our country to avoid such clashes."


Experts fear the agreements with China will encourage other neighbouring countries to make territorial claims. Analysts believe the president may seek to silence deputies to continue criticise the land deals by dissolving parliament. Nobody thinks Akaev will be deterred from handing over the land - although reports that some senior officials have agreed to talk to non-government organisations on the matter suggests that the president is not completely dismissive of public concerns.


Kyrgyzstan, meanwhile, is getting ready to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union. But many are asking just how much sovereignty they have left.


Igor Grebenshchikov is a regular IWPR contributor


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