Kazak Security Forces Bracing for Trouble

Military mount crowd-dispersal exercises as officials speak of need to bolster weapon stocks and scrutinise the opposition.

Kazak Security Forces Bracing for Trouble

Military mount crowd-dispersal exercises as officials speak of need to bolster weapon stocks and scrutinise the opposition.

Sunday, 20 November, 2005

The limp bodies of those actors who had been “shot” or “beaten unconscious” with truncheons were hurriedly loaded into vehicles and driven off.

Next, the water trucks waiting close by set about washing away the red paint which had been splattered over the rear courtyard of the Jambyl police station.

In the wake of recent revolution and armed clashes in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan respectively, Kazak security forces have been mounting a series of secret armed exercises aimed at dispersing protests with firearms.

Such determination to maintain an iron grip on the Kazak population was foreshadowed in correspondence written by the interior minister to the prime minister earlier this year and later published in the opposition press.

In the leaked document, the content of which has now been authenticated by IWPR, Zautbek Turisbekov spoke of a need to scale up patriotic propaganda, keep a close eye on opposition activities and replenish the security forces’ stocks of weapons.

This police exercise in the Jambyl region – which IWPR was able to observe in secret – followed closely on from similar covert rehearsals in the capital Astana. On that occasion, journalists who turned up were immediately dispersed. “No exercises are being held,” they were told point-blank by the Astana police press office.

But high-ranking sources at the interior ministry, who wished to remain anonymous, admitted that such dry runs are being performed all over Kazakstan.

Other ominous changes are underway. Special “Buran” police teams in the Jambyl region, for instance, have been equipped with bullet-proof vests, army-issue helmets, handcuffs and rubber clubs since March 23, around the time that ousted president Askar Akaev fled Kyrgyzstan.

The Buran units are prohibited from going out on patrol without basic weapons, and each team has access to an automatic firearm.

These clear efforts to toughen the security situation in Kazakstan are an eerie echo of interior minister Turisbekov’s controversial correspondence, which caused a scandal when it was published in the opposition weekly Zakon on May 13.

The leaked document, dated January 21, 2005 and titled “On Measures to Ensure Public Order in Case of an Aggravation of the Socio-political Situation”, was described at the time as a letter by the minister to premier Daniyar Akhmetov.

In it, Turisbekov says that recent popular revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia were possible only because of a “lack of harsh political will by the leadership of the country” and because “a decision was not made at the right time to take measures of force to neutralise the aggravated situation”.

The document goes on to propose that Kazakstan’s security forces and judiciary should carefully enforce national laws governing gatherings, marches and demonstrations.

“The law-enforcement and special bodies must have reliable information about the political technology used by the opposition, study their financing mechanisms and objectively assess the opposition as a possible organiser of disturbances in the country,” Turisbekov is quoted as saying.

The letter also discusses measures to boost the professionalism of interior ministry personnel, replenish the weapons arsenal available to them and increase police patrols.

The text adds that patriotic propaganda should be increased in higher education institutes. And it recommends that students and other youths should be employed to form special divisions which would prevent unsanctioned gatherings and, if necessary, provide support to the law-enforcement agencies.

At the time of its publication, the interior ministry declined to comment on the document. But two high-ranking interior ministry officials in Astana have confirmed to IWPR that the text published was a combination of two memos sent to the prime minister by Turisbekov.

One of these notes, it was confirmed, focussed on the question of supplying additional weapons to interior ministry personnel. The intention was to address a situation in which only 60 per cent of operational police personnel in the capital were armed.

The other memo was apparently dedicated to a discussion of recent events in Kyrgyzstan. The officials declined to discuss details of its content.

One high-ranking official in the Jambyl interior department, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that in light of the recent spate of exercises and other signs of a toughening-up of security, the possibility “cannot be ruled out” that an order might be issued at a political level for local police to use force in the face of civil unrest.

“If, for example, an enormous number of people take part in disturbances,” said the official, “then the elite special units from the capital may simply not be large enough.”

Local police forces, he said, “need to be prepared for using weapons – above all, psychologically”.

A police sergeant that IWPR spoke to, Sanjar Seitov, said that he for one would not be prepared to follow any such instructions. “If the people rise up and the order to fire is given,” he said, “I will not be able to shoot at unarmed people. Exercises are one thing but real killings are another.”

In the meantime, senator Zauresh Batalova has formally expressed concern about possibility of violent suppression of unrest to both President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Akhmetov.

“The arsenal of the army and interior ministry must not be used against peaceful citizens for the sake of holding on to power,” she said. “Only by ensuring honest presidential elections will the authorities be able to preserve stability in Kazakstan, without threatening the lives and safety of peaceful citizens.”

A reserve colonel of the National Security Committee, Arat Narmambetov, warned that, no matter what the actual intention, the increased training and rearming in itself has the potential to inflame the situation in Kazakstan.

“With such exercises, the authorities are provoking these scenarios,” he said. “If there is a gun hanging on the wall then sooner or later it will shoot.”

Gaziza Baituova is an IWPR correspondent in Taraz.

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