Kyrgyzstan: Batken Wounded Facing Hard Times

Survivors of campaign against Muslim rebels say they've been neglected by the authorities.

Kyrgyzstan: Batken Wounded Facing Hard Times

Survivors of campaign against Muslim rebels say they've been neglected by the authorities.

Soldiers wounded defending Kyrgyzstan against Islamic insurgents three years ago now complain the state has abandoned them to a life of suffering and poverty.

Some 55 conscript soldiers died and 88 were injured fighting rebels of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, who twice pushed into the Batken region of south Kyrgyzstan between 1999 and 2000.

The state promised at the time it would provide support to the wounded and to families of the dead so they could live decently, but today many survivors say the government has forgotten all about them.

Since that time Kyrgyzstan has largely abandoned conscription and built a professional army, but backlogs in salary payments have prompted soldiers to desert in droves.

Prospective recruits will not be encouraged by stories now emerging of the way soldiers were treated after the Batken campaign.

Reserve officer Mukhtarali Topchubaev enlisted in the army as soon as the Batken conflict began. On September 18, 1999 the rebels suddenly attacked his post at Syrt near Khaidarkan. His men, all in their early twenties, repulsed the attack - and seven of them died in the action. "We had very little ammunition. It was hard to defend ourselves, but we killed the well-known rebel Abdilaziz Yuldashev," Topchubaev told IWPR.

He survived with a bullet in the shoulder and a head injury from an exploding grenade. But his troubles were far from over,

While the families of soldiers who died received on average 60,000 som (1,300 US dollars) plus 50 per cent discounts on public utilities, the state gave Topchubaev only 15,500 som - other wounded soldiers have received much less.

"The doctors told me I had to have four operations urgently," Topchubaev said. "I took out a bank loan for the first two operations but could not afford the other two."

This IWPR journalist visited Topchubaev's home and was shocked to see a completely empty and unheated apartment. His former home had been confiscated when he failed to pay off the bank loan on time.

Unable to put up with the conditions, the Batken veteran's wife left him, taking their children with her.

He turned for help to Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev who promised to arrange an operation free of charge at the National Surgical Centre in Bishkek. But when Topchubaev went there, he was told there had been no instructions to treat him. "If I don't get justice, I'll blow myself up," said the ex-soldier in desperation.

Colonel Nuradil Asypbaev from the medical department of the defence ministry told IWPR that each soldier wounded during the fighting has the right to a monthly pension. "They are allocated a certain sum of money from social welfare funds," he said.

The soldiers insist though that they get no pensions and only limited benefits.

"I don't feel like the mother of a hero - the state doesn't help us in any way," said the mother of Anatoly Prokhorov who fought as a platoon commander and suffered shell shock as well as a grenade wound.

"When I was taken from the battlefield to the city of Osh, I, like several other wounded men, was given compensation of 2,000 som," Prokhorov said. "Initially, I was also given 30 per cent discounts on public utilities but these were later taken away without explanation."

Prokhorov thinks he was very lucky to get an operation for his injuries at government expense, even though he had to find money for later ones.

On February 24, Tanaev signed a decree to provide material assistance, worth some 2,975,000 soms (65,000 dollars) this year, for soldiers wounded during the 1999-2000 conflict and to families of those killed.

When IWPR asked what prompted this decree, Colonel Asypbaev said it was "the state caring for its heroes". He said the decision was timed to coincide with February 23, the Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland. He admitted that "there are, of course, complaints from the soldiers and their families, but this is not the reason these decrees were passed".

The former combatants themselves remain pessimistic. "I am very happy about the decree but I will only believe it when I see the money in my hand," said Ilkom Aripov, a wounded Batken veteren who received a tiny compensation payment. " They say this aid is on the way to us, but who knows what might happen."

Gulnura Toralieva is an independent Kyrgyz journalist.

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