Kyrgyz Police Make Emergency Call

Anti-mafia officers appeal for resources in the war on organised crime.

Kyrgyz Police Make Emergency Call

Anti-mafia officers appeal for resources in the war on organised crime.

Police in Kyrgyzstan say they can no longer cope with the immense task of fighting organised crime – they have no money, no equipment, and their aged Russian-made cars cannot even keep up with the Mercedes favoured by the mafia.

Staff at the central Criminal Investigation Department, CID, which comes under the Kyrgyz interior ministry, formally requested help from parliament after meeting on September 29 to discuss the crisis.

In a statement, the CID officers asked for modern technology, faster cars, funding for their investigations and a decent salary, which reflects the tough nature of their job.

Organised crime has been a problem since Kyrgyzstan became independent in 1991. According to the interior ministry’s own statistics, in the last 14 years there have been around 40 contract killings, though only one has been solved.

In the past few months there have been three professional assassinations of high-profile figures.

In June, gunmen shot member of parliament Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev in broad daylight in the centre of Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital. Then in September, Abdalim Junusov, a businessman from the south of the country, was shot dead at his home along with his driver. On September 19, an unknown killer gunned down another parliamentary deputy, Bayaman Erkinbaev, outside his home.

The day after Erkinbaev’s murder, parliament met in an emergency session to take the law enforcement agencies to task for their alleged inaction in the face of mafia violence. Several deputies spoke about a hit list, which they believed they were on.

CID chief Colonel Baktybek Jusubaliev says it was this heated debate that prompted his officers to take action. He is optimistic that they will see results, noting that several deputies promised to lend their support and to ensure the issue was high on the agenda when the 2006 budget is discussed.

“Each officer must have some means of protection. We do not have crime fighting equipment or other special devices. At the same time, the crime groups have the most modern equipment,” he said. “In the past few years, ten of our best employees have been killed by criminals. Their families receive money from the state, but the sum is only enough to buy two or three sacks of flour. So the best people leave us, realising that there is no guarantee of protection from the state.”

The colonel noted that his staff are paid an average of 2,000-2,500 soms (50-60 US dollars) a month - not enough to support themselves let alone their families.

“How can there be any quality of work if the employees’ children go hungry at home, and they cannot pay for their children to study at school, or even pay the rent?” asked Jambul Janybaev, who heads the CID’s office for crimes against property.

Janybaev, with 22 years of service behind him, says he receives a tenth of the 1,000-dollars-a-month wage that his equivalent in neighbouring Kazakstan would be paid.

“CID officers don’t even have free mobile phone use, even though cell phones are essential to the job. Of course we can’t pay the charges on our salaries,” he said.

Aitbek Sakeev, who is head of the CID department dealing with crimes against the person, says his officers start their working day with a search for petrol to fill up their cars.

The CID has not received a single new police car in the last ten years, and only five of the 24 vehicles officially on the books are actually roadworthy.

“The criminals change car half a dozen times a day. When they escape from us in their Mercedes and jeeps, we chase after them in 10-year-old Zhigulis [Ladas], so you can imagine what that’s like,” said Sakeev.

Janybaev added, “Sometimes we have to travel urgently to Naryn or Talas. The journey which a good car can do in two hours takes us five or six in our old ones.”

Some members of parliament are sympathetic to the concerns raised by police. Askar Salymbekov believes the problem needs to be resolved as soon as possible.

“They are raising issues that we forgot about 15 years ago,” he said. “We can’t ask them to fight crime effectively until we create the right conditions for them to work in. Ask yourself - how can people work and risk their lives in such a dangerous profession on a salary like that?”

Edil Baisalov, the head of the NGO Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, believes police officers also suffer because the system does not back them up when they go after mafia groups.

Baisalov referred to one recent case when two police officers shot dead two alleged criminals who attacked them with knives while being placed under arrest. The two officers were arrested, charged and placed in the same detention unit where an accomplice of the two dead men was being held.

Colleagues of the police officers held protests, and eventually they were released on bail on the interior minister’s orders.

“What can we say to young cops when they say their fellow-officers are being betrayed by the system, when they say that at any moment they may be handed over to the mercy of criminals?” said Baisalov. “They will ask themselves what the point of risking their lives is.”

Not everyone agrees. At the parliamentary session following Erkinbaev’s murder, there were calls for senior police officials to resign and for a root-and-branch reform of law-enforcement agencies, which are accused of having mafia connections themselves.

Deputy Kubatbek Baibolov took a similar line when he spoke to IWPR, saying low wages and lack of resources are not really the biggest obstacle to fighting organised crime. “The most important thing is that the interior ministry is itself in need of fundamental reform. It's rotten to the core.

“How can we talk about crime-fighting when the ministry is on friendly terms with the criminals? What crime-fighting are we talking about when state leaders pronounce toasts at events organised by criminals?”

Political analyst Adil Turdukulov has a similar view, saying the complaints about under-resourcing are merely a pretext for the lack of police action on key cases.

“If they were such great professionals, then they could at least have solved the murder of the two deputies,” he said.

Colonel Sakeev counters that contract killings are regarded as the hardest kind of crime to solve all over the world, and usually take one or two years to unravel.

“We are doing everything we can. There is already good progress being made on the murder of the two deputies, and you’ll be hearing more about it,” he said.

Sakeev added, “The guys working in the department are true patriots. They’ve been through the most difficult of times and now they need some support.”

Other CID officers insist that if they are given more resources and paid more, results will follow.

“We are already working day and night as it is,” said Janybaev. “If our salaries are increased and proper conditions are created, we’ll be so happy that we will simply move into our offices and start living there.”

As a first step, parliamentary deputies attending an event to mark the anniversary of the CID’s creation on October 5 made personal pledges to help them. Omurbek Babanov, who has a sideline in the oil imports business, offered five tonnes of petrol for the police cars and his colleague Karganbek Samakov promised five computers.

Cholpon Orozobekova is a correspondent for Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of RFE/RL.

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