Wednesday, 15 July 2009

15 July 2009 News Digest

Published in News Digest

By Alima Bissenova (7/15/2009 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Kidnappers Free 16 Afghan demining workers 6 July Sixteen Afghans working for a United Nations-sponsored demining agency who were kidnapped at the weekend have been freed unharmed, an agency official has said. The Mine Detection and Dog Center (MDC) personnel were seized by gunmen on a highway in eastern Paktia province on July 4. The MDC is part of the overall UN mine-clearing agency in Afghanistan known as UNMACA.

Kidnappers Free 16 Afghan demining workers 6 July Sixteen Afghans working for a United Nations-sponsored demining agency who were kidnapped at the weekend have been freed unharmed, an agency official has said. The Mine Detection and Dog Center (MDC) personnel were seized by gunmen on a highway in eastern Paktia province on July 4. The MDC is part of the overall UN mine-clearing agency in Afghanistan known as UNMACA. Sherin Agha Ahmad Shah, head of the MDC in Paktia, said tribal chiefs in the province made contact with the kidnappers and were able to secure the release of the men late on July 5. "The kidnappers were thieves and the tribal chiefs negotiated the release of the workers without any ransom or any deal," he told reporters, without giving further details. The Interior Ministry said in a statement police were also involved in securing their release. Kidnapping of Afghans and foreigners has become a lucrative business both for Taliban insurgents and criminal gangs in recent years. Some captives have been killed while others have been released after ransoms were apparently paid. Separately, no further information has emerged about two Afghan employees working for Dutch aid agency HealthNet TPO (HNI) who the Afghan Health Ministry said were abducted in neighboring Khost Province on July 4. HNI is a Netherlands-based aid agency specializing in rehabilitating health-care systems in war zones and disaster areas. No one has claimed responsibility for their abductions. (Reuters)


Georgia to mull budget financing via IMF loans

6 July

The International Monetary Fund's (IMF) mission will visit Georgian on July 7-8, Georgian Premier Nika Gilauri said. The premier said the IMF implements a new program, which envisages budget financing. "The Monetary Fund determined the cost of the program. Negotiations will be held in July to grant some part of tranche to the 2010 budget," Gilauri said. During the visit, the parties will hold the talks to allocate the second tranche loan and determine amount of financing for the country's budget, he said. "This tranche is expected to be approved in August," Gilauri said. (Trend Capital) China suspends visas to Kazakhs for Xinjiang 7 July Chinese and Kazakh officials have agreed to suspend Chinese visas for Kazakhs wishing to visit Xinjiang, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports. Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Erzhan Ashikbaev said that those planning to visit China's northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Province should postpone their trip. He did not elaborate on a time frame for the suspension. According to Ashikbaev, Kazakh citizens are welcome to visit any other Chinese provinces. Weekend clashes between ethnic Uyghurs and ethnic Han Chinese in Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, left at least 150 dead and thousands injured and arrested. Ashikbaev said that there were no Kazakh citizens among the casualties. (RFE/RL)


Blast outside school in Afghanistan kills 15 9 July An explosion outside a school south of the Afghan capital on July 9 killed at least 15 people, including 12 students, an official said. The blast happened as a police convoy patrolled in Mohammad Agha district of Logar province and was caused by explosive materials in a truck, the district chief said. "So far I can tell that 12 students, three police and several civilians have been killed," Abdul Hamid told Reuters by phone. The age of the students was not immediately known. The truck, which was carrying explosive materials, had rolled over into a stream overnight, Hamid said. It was not clear wether the blast was a sabotage act amid increasing violence in Afghanistan or was an accident. Afghans use explosive materials for construction, mining works and even for hunting. Some people were also wounded by the blast, Hamid said. (Reuters)


Gunmen attack police post in Tajikistan

9 July

Unidentified gunmen have opened fire on a police post in Tajikistan near its border with Afghanistan, a senior Tajik security source said Thursday, the latest in a string of attacks across Central Asia. Authorities have linked the recent attacks in the impoverished Muslim region, formerly part of the Soviet Union, to growing instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The source said a group of up to 15 men attacked a checkpoint near Tavildara, a town tucked away in the Pamir mountains just 20 km (12.5 miles) from the Afghan border. "We don't know who they were," the source told Reuters. "They could be criminals, drug smugglers and also they could be militants from certain extremist organizations, but we cannot say for sure which ones." Tavildara was at the heart of Islamist-led resistance to Tajikistan's Russia-backed government in the 1990s during a brutal civil war which left more than 100,000 people dead. Asia-Plus news agency reported earlier that several attackers were injured but managed to escape. Tajikistan's interior ministry said it could not immediately comment on the report. Governments in Central Asia have blamed the latest surge in violence on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a group whose militants have long fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. In one of the latest attacks, Kyrgyz security forces killed three men they said were members of the group in a gun battle in Ferghana valley, Central Asia's most densely populated area. (Reuters)


Turkmenistan ready to join Nabucco pipeline: president

10 July

Turkmenistan is prepared to supply gas to the European pipeline project Nabucco, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said Friday in a report carried by the national news agency."Turkmenistan, consistent with the principles of diversifying its energy transport network on world markets, is considering all existing possibilities to participate in major international projects, as for example the Nabucco project," he said. The 3,300-kilometre (2,000-mile) pipeline is expected to pump as much as 31 billion cubic metres of gas from the Caspian Sea to Austria via Turkey and the Balkans, bypassing Russia. It is a rival to Russia's South Stream project, developed by Russian gas giant Gazprom and Italy's Eni, which will channel Russian gas through Bulgaria to Western Europe under the Black Sea. Relations between Turkmenistan, a former Soviet republic in central Asia, and Russia have been strained in recent weeks, notably following an explosion in April on a pipeline linking the two countries. While the line has been repaired, Turkmenistan has refused to resume gas deliveries to Russia. Industry analysts have raised questions about the Nabucco project, noting that its suppliers were uncertain. Turkemenistan, along with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, have been seen as key potential providers of gas to the pipeline. (AFP)


 Four U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan 12 July Four U.S. soldiers were killed by roadside bombs in southern Afghanistan, the latest casualties in an escalation of insurgent violence. The military reported on July 12 that the bombings had taken place a day earlier. Another soldier serving with NATO-led forces in the south died on July 10 from wounds received in June, the alliance said in a statement. Thousands of U.S. Marines and hundreds of British troops have been fighting major new offensives in the past 10 days in Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold and Afghanistan's biggest producer of the opium, which helps fund the insurgency."The four killed in two IED attacks were U.S. service members," said U.S. military spokeswoman Lieutenant Commander Christine Sidenstricker, referring to improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs, one of the most common weapons used by insurgents to attack Afghan and foreign security forces. The loss of the four Americans was one of the biggest casualty tolls since the Marines launched their latest assault, Operation Strike of the Sword, on July 2. The British military earlier launched its own offensive in the area. Seven U.S. soldiers died in attacks across Afghanistan on July 6, including four in a single bombing in northern Kunduz. British troops mounting their biggest operation of the campaign in Afghanistan have also had casualties at the hands of the Taliban, with 15 killed in a 10-day period, including five in two separate roadside bomb blasts on July 10. Britain has now lost 184 soldiers in Afghanistan since it joined the U.S.-led war, more than the 179 killed in Iraq since 2003. (Reuters)



Five killed in gunfight in Russia

12 July

Russian security officers Sunday shot and killed five men who opened fire on them with automatic weapons, officials say. Officials at a Federal Security Service public relations center branch in Khasavyurt said the deadly gun battle in the Republic of Dagestan began when the security officers stopped a vehicle carrying the gunmen in order to check the travelers' documents, ITAR-TASS reported. Three of the gunmen were wanted for crimes of a terrorist nature and were members of a Khasavyurt gang, the officials said.

The identities of the other two slain suspects were unknown. None of the security officers involved were injured, the Russian news agency said. ITAR-TASS said a search of the gunmen's vehicle uncovered four submachine guns and ammunition. (UPI)


US does not object to Russian base in Kyrgyzstan: diplomat

12 July

The United States has no objections to Russia opening a second military base in Kyrgyzstan, a senior US diplomat said Sunday during a visit to the Central Asian nation. The comments came two days after a Kyrgyz government source said the country had agreed to let Russia open a new military base, a move that has been seen as a response to Kyrgyzstan's decision not to close a US airbase. "Any such decision is obviously the sovereign right of the government of Kyrgyzstan," US Undersecretary of State William Burns told reporters, when asked about the possibility of a new Russian base. "Our view is that any step that strengthens the sovereignty and independence and security of Kyrgyzstan is a sensible one," Burns said at a press conference in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. A Kyrgyz government source told AFP on Friday that Russia had won permission to open a base in Osh, a city in southern Kyrgyzstan, which would operate under the auspices of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). The decision to host a new Russian base came shortly after Kyrgyzstan agreed to let US forces remain at the Manas airbase outside Bishkek, used to support operations in Afghanistan, effectively reversing a previous decision. In February, Kyrgyzstan ordered the Manas airbase to close in a decision widely believed to have been made under Russian pressure. Moscow has long been uncomfortable with the presence of US troops in ex-Soviet Central Asia. Some media reports have suggested that Moscow was angered by Kyrgyzstan's reversal, and Russia's Kommersant newspaper wrote Saturday that the Kremlin hoped to save face by opening the new base in Osh. "Moscow's ambition to open a new base in Kyrgyzstan is something of a response to the actions of the United States, which recently managed to maintain its military presence in Manas," Kommersant wrote. If Moscow opens a new base in Osh, it would be the second Russian base in Kyrgyzstan, after the Kant airbase outside Bishkek. Kyrgyzstan is the only country in the world to house both Russian and US bases. (AFP)


U.S. tells Uzbekistan it wants better ties 13 July A top U.S. diplomat told Uzbekistan on July 13 Washington wanted to repair relations with the Central Asian state, strained since a dispute over human rights in 2005 and the closure of a key U.S. military base. The mainly Muslim former Soviet republic had ceased contacts with Washington but has since allowed transit of nonmilitary cargo to neighboring Afghanistan and welcomed President Barack Obama's address to Muslims calling for a new beginning in ties. U.S. Under Secretary of State William Burns, in the Uzbek capital Tashkent on a tour of the region, spoke to journalists before a meeting with Uzbek President Islam Karimov. "I believe our visit and our discussions are a positive step in our relations. I'm convinced that we have an opportunity before us in a new administration to strengthen ties between our two countries," Burns told reporters, according to a transcript of the briefing provided by the U.S. embassy in Tashkent. "I think we do have a very real opportunity before us to do that [strengthen ties with Uzbekistan]," he said. "We see this visit as a first step in that direction." Karimov told Burns he welcomed the new U.S. approach. (Reuters)


Six Die In Copter Crash, Afghan War Toll Mounts 14 July Six Ukrainians supplying British troops in Afghanistan were killed in a helicopter crash and two U.S. Marines and an Italian soldier were killed in what could become the bloodiest month in the eight-year-old war. Authorities in Moldova said the cargo helicopter, owned by an aviation firm there, was brought down by a missile. The Taliban also claimed to have shot down the chopper, a rare occurrence. Western forces confirmed a helicopter had crashed bringing supplies to a British base at Sangin in Helmand Province and six foreigners were killed. In Brussels, a NATO spokesman said the cause of the crash was under investigation but he could not confirm details of passengers on board. A total of 43 foreign soldiers have already died this month as U.S. and British troops simultaneously launched the two biggest operations of the war to seize Helmand Province, the Taliban's opium-producing heartland. The highest death toll for Western forces in Afghanistan since 2001 is 46 for an entire month. The mounting death toll among Western troops in Afghanistan is fulfilling commanders' predictions that the deployment of large-scale U.S. reinforcements would mean higher casualties. Commanders have said they expect a sharp spike in casualties as new troops move into areas held by fighters ahead of an August 20 presidential election. (Reuters) Uzbekistan warns over Russian base plan 14 July

Uzbekistan is warning against a Russian plan to open a military base near the Uzbek border in southern Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports. Uzbek Senator Surayo Odilhodjaeva told RFE/RL that the proposed new base -- reportedly near the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh -- would not contribute to the security of Central Asia. "I think the less military bases we have in the region, the better," she said. Uzbek political commentator Sanobar Shermatova said Tashkent's objection to an increased Russian military presence close to its borders is natural. "Tashkent wants to maintain a balance of power," Shermatova said. "It realizes that Russia may lean [more] toward Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan [than Uzbekistan and that] Kazakhstan may join them, thus leaving the Uzbeks alone and reducing the country's influence." Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov met with Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev in Bishkek on July 7. The three reportedly discussed a proposal for a new military base in southern Kyrgyzstan. If approved, such a scheme would be the second Russian-operated military base in the country, after a base in Kant that opened in September 2003 under an agreement with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to station Russian forces for 15 years. U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns said in Bishkek on July 12 that "any such decision is obviously the sovereign right of the government of Kyrgyzstan." Uzbek President Islam Karimov told Burns in Tashkent one day later that Uzbekistan is willing to further develop ties with the United States.  Regional analyst Deirdre Tynan told RFE/RL that a move by Russia in Kyrgyzstan gives Tashkent "plenty of room and political justification to cooperate further with the U.S. in order to create a level of security for Uzbeks." Russian observer Fedor Lukyanov said another step that Karimov might take in response to Russia's attempt to secure another military base would be to withdraw from the CSTO. He said that Karimov has already tried to "sabotage the Russian initiative to establish CSTO's rapid deployment forces last month [by not agreeing to the proposal]." (RFE/RL)


Central Asian Uighurs fear crackdown could spread

14 July

Anguished by ethnic violence in China but fearful that crackdowns on their minority group could spread, Uighur activists across Central Asia said Tuesday they have urged local communities to avoid large public protests. Up to half a million Uighurs live in the former Soviet states west of China, prompting concerns that ethnic clashes in China's western Xinjiang region could trigger a wave of violence across the region. Tensions still run high in Xinjiang amid tight security, more than a week after the regional capital, Urumqi, erupted in riots that the government says claimed 184 lives. Chinese authorities say most of those killed were Han Chinese — an assertion denied by international Uighur rights groups. Public reactions among Uighur minorities in Central Asia have been muted, however, amid fears that governments might crack down on protesters to appease China, the regional giant. "This has been a strong psychological blow for Uighurs in Kazakhstan," said Khakhriman Khozhamberdi, who leads an Uighur political movement in that country. About 300,000 ethnic Uighurs live in Kazakhstan, the largest population outside China. "But no protests are taking place here," Khozhamberdi said. "Instead we are holding traditional religious ceremonies as a mark of respect for the dead. We are calling on everybody to remain peaceful." Beijing's political and economic influence in Central Asia is rapidly expanding. In April, Beijing agreed to lend Kazakhstan about $5 billion in exchange for an increased stake in the country's energy sector. Governments in the region have remained largely silent about the events in Xinjiang but all have denounced separatist movements. In recent days, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have evacuated more than 1,000 of their nationals from the violence-affected Chinese region. (AP)


Medvedev speaks of his trip to Tskhinvali 14 July Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, said the Georgian people would some day rule tough verdict to President Saakashvili for attacking South Ossetia last August. Speaking at a meeting with Russian navy sailors in Sochi after visiting breakaway South Ossetia on July 13, Medvedev said that “the new state was created after a boorish aggression by the Georgian regime.” “Of course full responsibility for what has happened [last August] lies on this regime, but it’s not our business to deal with it,” he continued.“One day the Georgian people itself will rule a heavy sentence to Saakashvili’s regime and to those who took part in those bloody actions.” “Our task is to help young state to stand on its feet, to overcome difficulties, simply to survive in difficult conditions, which exist in Caucasus,” Medvedev said. “I can tell you frankly: they live there poorly and in difficult conditions. They were all grateful to Russia for those difficult decisions, which we had to take last August. Part of those people might not be alive now if we have not taken those decisions. They were thanking Russia with tears on their eyes… It strengthens Russia’s reputation in Caucasus and in the world.”“We have a [military] base there,” he continued. “Decent conditions for the service are created there and this [military base] is a direct signal for them, who can’t settle-down and for them in whose minds idiotic plans emerge time after time.” (Civil Georgia)

UN monitors to leave Georgia

15 July

The UN Security Council failed to extend the mission of the 130 observers last month, due to a Russian veto. Last August, Russia backed Abkhazia's declaration of independence from Georgia. But no other international organisation has done so. The monitors have been in the region for 16 years, monitoring a ceasefire. Their mandate ceased to exist exactly one month ago. So, as they prepare to leave their field offices in Abkhazia and Georgia, there will be no farewell ceremony. They will simply pack their bags and leave. Russia backed the region's declaration of independence from Georgia following the short but devastating war in the other disputed territory of South Ossetia. This has made it very difficult for international organisations to go about their work. The UN says it deeply regrets the end of the mission's mandate. It had been in the region since 1993, when it was deployed to report violations of an earlier ceasefire between Georgian forces and Abkhaz separatists. From now on, there will be no international peace monitors working inside either of the volatile, disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. There are concerns that the remaining populations will now live in a security vacuum, finding it harder to draw attention to their problems. (BBC)


Moscow must make concessions to Dushanbe to use military base in Tajikistan

15 July

For the activity of the Russian Ayni airbase in Tajikistan, Moscow must either provide funds for the construction of hydropower plants on the territory of Central Asian states, or begin paying rent and other expenses for location of the Russian air groups in its territory, says a European expert on Central Asia, Yuri Fedorov. Russia claims the use of Ayni airbase in Tajikistan, which is important for Moscow from the point of view of the interests of the country in Central Asia. However, the sides have some differences - Russia tries to obtain this facility free of charge, and the Tajik government does not agree with this. The press even reported that Dushanbe proposed anti-terrorist coalition forces to use the base for operations in Afghanistan. However, according to the expert, the talk about the possible use of NATO forces is a provocation in the media."Judging by the reaction of the U.S., they do not have real plans to establish a base in Ayni," Fedorov, Research Fellow of Chatham House Royal Institute of International Affairs Russian and Eurasian Program, told Trend News via e-mail. However, the use of Aini by Russia remains valid. "Dushanbe requires Russia to fulfill its promise to allocate huge funds for the construction of hydropower plants, including Rogun, which ultimately damage Russia's relations with Uzbekistan, which are now in a very wretched condition, or to pay rent and other expenses on placement of the Russian air groups in Ayni," Fedorov said. Uzbekistan opposes against the construction of hydropower plants in the neighbor states - Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, because of water lack in the country. Tashkent is afraid that due to the construction of hydropower stations on the rivers of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the volume of water that falls in Uzbekistan will diminish and it will greatly affect the agriculture. He said that Russia will somehow find funds to pay for its aviation presence in Tajikistan, since without air support, Russian 201st base troops' fighting efficiency is low. (Trend News)


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