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Kyrgyzstan: Secret Uzbek Raid Ends in Farce
The latest Uzbek security force incursion into neighbouring Kyrgyzstan to snatch criminal suspects ended in embarrassing failure this week when locals stepped in and rounded up the raiders.
The raid began when a team of 10 law-enforcement officers from the Namangan region of Uzbekistan crossed into Kyrgyzstan on December 10. Although they are not supposed to operate outside their country's jurisdiction, snatch teams like this one clearly feel they have immunity - they were travelling in three cars with Uzbek number plates.
The squad first entered and searched the home of Alymkul Imanbaev, a farmer who lives in the village of Jetigen, 1.5 kilometres from the border. "I was driving cows out of a field when I noticed that several cars had stopped by my house. Some people got out and without any explanation, entered my house," Imanbaev told IWPR.
When he asked them why they were looking through his house and outbuildings, they asked whether a man by the name of Mansur lived there. Then they got into their cars and drove off.
"I didn't realise who these people were or they wanted," said the farmer. "I'm an ordinary villager, and earn a living from my field. I've never had any dealings with Uzbekistan."
An hour later, the Uzbek police reappeared in the village of Kerben, and attempted to seize Alymbek Batyraliev. He told IWPR what happened next, "I arrived at the market, and I'd just got out of my car when I was attacked by some uniformed assailants whom I didn't know, and they started beating me. I called for help and tried to get away."
Eyewitness Nurbek Shadybekov said that when people at the market protested, one of the assailants ordered his partners to "shoot at them".
"Alymbek got away, and he started running," continued Shadybekov. "Then another car blocked his path, and several people got out and started beating him. One produced a pistol and aimed at him. At that moment, we attacked them and started fighting them."
Around 20 people rushed to help their fellow citizen when they saw men wearing uniforms and speaking Uzbek trying to drag him into the car.
At this point, the police jumped into their cars and drove off towards Uzbekistan. But the locals raced after them and - together with Kyrgyz border guards - detained all but one and handed them over to their own police. One of the Uzbeks made it across the border.
The deputy prosecutor of Aksy district, Jamaldin Satybaldiev, told IWPR that the detainees included the prosecutor and police chief of Yangi-Kurgan district, part of Uzbekistan's Namangan region. His superior, district prosecutor Kylych Toktogulov said, "I can't talk about what action we might take at the moment. But I did not sanction Alymbek Batyraliev's arrest or a search of Alymkul Imanbaev's home."
Abdymalik Egemberdiev, deputy head of Aksy's local government, said this was not the first time Uzbek law-enforcement officers had entered the district without sanction. "In this case, we believe that the guilty should be punished, and the prosecutor's office will assess the legality of the Uzbek law-enforcement officers' actions," he said.
Unsanctioned raids of this kind are frequently reported in southern Kyrgyzstan. The Uzbek security services' main target appears to be people they suspect of Islamic militancy, who may be abducted and then put on trial inside Uzbekistan. Human rights activist Azimjan Askarov estimates that 100 out of the at least 250 Kyrgyz citizens now in Uzbek jails were abducted in Kyrgyzstan.
In one well-publicised recent case, a Muslim cleric called Sadykjan Rahmanov was snatched from his home in September and has not been seen since. Kyrgyz police have told IWPR that they believe Uzbekistan's National Security Service may have been involved.
Residents of southern Kyrgyzstan - who include many ethnic Uzbeks - have told IWPR that such illegal operations make them feel unsafe, and that anyone, not just known Islamic activists, is vulnerable.
The Kyrgyz authorities disapprove of the abductions, but critics say they are fearful of making too much fuss for fear of upsetting Uzbekistan.
Following the detention of the Uzbek policemen, around 150 angry people gathered outside the regional police headquarters in Jalalabad. Sartbay Jaichibekov, a lawyer from a local human rights organisation, said they were worried that the Kyrgyz police might quietly release their Uzbek colleagues.
"People believe that the police will reach a deal and cover the case up," he said. "Now everyone is watching to see how the Kyrgyz law-enforcement bodies react, and whether the assailants are punished."
The Uzbeks were released without charge the following day, after the chief of police in Namangan came across the border to talk to Jalalabad region prosecutor Aybek Turganbaev. "As a result, the detained men apologised to our officials, and left," said Satybaldiev. "But we do plan to start a criminal case…Most likely they will be accused of exceeding their official authority."
The people who are seized and taken off to Uzbekistan are generally ethnic Uzbeks, often with Kyrgyz passports. In this case both Batyraliev and Imankulov were ethnic Kyrgyz. Batyraliev said that the Uzbek police later told him that "they had made a mistake and confused me with someone else".
But Askarov says that proving that it was a case of mistaken identity might not have prevented Batyraliev from being locked up in an Uzbek prison camp anyway. "I am absolutely certain that they would soon have made Alymbek confess to a whole range of crimes that he did not commit. And then he would have been sentenced to at least 15 years in prison," he said.
The way this covert operation was very publicly blown open has provided a documented case to support allegations of a consistent pattern of abductions. But it is questionable whether the officers involved will ever face charges, as Kyrgyz officials have promised.
"There's a big question-mark about whether the Kyrgyz authorities really will be able to punish the guilty, or whether the Uzbek law officers will go unpunished so as to avoid a quarrel with our powerful neighbour," said Jaichibekov.
Ulugbek Babakulov is an IWPR contributor in Kyrgyzstan.
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