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Kyrgyzstan: Hungry Soldiers Break Hunting Law

Frontier guards claim their bland diet is forcing them to kill protected species to keep their strength up.
By Ulugbek Babakulov

Kyrgyzstan's frontier guards are so short of nutritious food that they're killing and eating protected species in a bid to stave off hunger.

Solidiers tired and demoralised by bland meals are hunting mountain goats, boars, roe deer and Marco Polo rams, whose numbers are dwindling as a result.

At one border post in the Chon Alai region, troops' said their daily diet consists of mashed potatoes, without a hint of spices - let alone meat. "We shoot at everything that's edible, just to add some calories to our food," said one.

The soldiers make so secret of the fact that they go hunting to relieve the monotony of their diets. "There are no vitamins in our food, and we need to survive somehow. The guys at the post or on patrol shoot animals for us to eat," said another guard.

The government has now agreed to act. On November 18, it announced that the armed forces' daily rations were to increase, and would be based on the amount of calories required to keep a soldier fighting fit.

The illegal hunting first came to light a year ago when some Batken oblast guards tried to make extra money by selling mountain goat meat door-to-door in nearby towns.

Unfortunately, one of the houses they called at belonged to Nurgazy Kadyrov of the Krygyz hunting inspection committee. "The frontier guards said that they wanted to buy products for their families with the money they got from the meat," Kadyrov told IWPR.

In the twelve months since this incident, conditions on the frontier have gone from bad to worse. But the guards have now become more careful, and only shoot animals to get meat for themselves, and if they sell it, they do so in neighbouring Tajikistan or Uzbekistan.

The hunting has led to drastic decline in the wild animal population "If dozens of mountain goats and wild boars used to graze together in herds, now you can only see three or four. The guards shoot at them indiscriminately with automatic weapons," said Kadyrov.

The frontier situation is a far cry from the Soviet era, when border guards were considered elite troops and provided with everything they could possibly need.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian soldiers continued to patrol the border but were withdrawn in 1998 - leaving Kyrgyzstan virtually unprotected.

The authorities were punished for this oversight when Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, rebels invaded the southern Batken oblast in 1999 and 2000. A decision was then made to send troops to the area, with extra state funds provided for the move. The trouble is that little of this money reached the frontier detachments.

The problem may have been exacerbated by corruption. More than 15 high-ranking officers in the defence ministry's financial department were arrested at the beginning of the year, and charged with embezzling 32 million som - 710,000 US dollars.

When asked by IWPR how often they shoot animals, one frontier post officer said almost every day. "We catch three to four mountain goats or wild boars. But we have no choice. Without energy, we cannot withstand a rebel attack, and would become hunted animals ourselves," he said.

Many guards IWPR spoke to admitted that they dream of a new IMU attack on Kyrgyz territory. "Only then will people begin to appreciate us, " said Bakyt, a soldier in the Mailuu-Sui mountain motorcycle battalion.

Ulugbek Babakulov is a rights activist in Jalal-Abad.

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