Law enforcement authorities are swooping down on Islamic activists in southern Kyrgyzstan’s Osh Region. In recent days, fourteen Islamists–all described as young–have gone on trial in two separate cases in the Kara Su and Aravan district, and another six activists have been arrested and indicted in the city of Osh. All twenty are accused of belonging to unlawful, “extremist” organizations, conspiring to overthrow the constitutional order and agitating for the creation of an Islamic state in the Ferghana Valley. “Inflammatory” literature, video and audio cassettes and computer disks, as well as printing and photocopying equipment were confiscated from the accused, according to officially inspired media accounts.
The Osh Region in southern Kyrgyzstan, abutting on Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and inhabited largely by ethnic Uzbeks, is a traditional religious stronghold. The mountainous part of the region was recently the scene of the insurgency staged by Uzbek Islamic militants from encampments they then had in Tajikistan (see the Monitor, October 27, November 5, 9; Fortnight in Review, September 24, November 5, 1999). The rebels failed to reach the populous lowlands, which is where the authorities are now rounding up religious activists. Significantly, the arrests and trials are taking place in the runup to the parliamentary elections scheduled to be held on February 20. Meanwhile the border area has been carved out of the Osh Region, to form the Batken Region and be endowed with a special security and economic status.
In a parallel action, aimed at preventing repeat incursions from Tajikistan, the Kyrgyz military is in the process of installing twenty-three permanent posts along that previously unmanned border. The military has, at one stroke, almost quadrupled the pay of officers of all ranks, effective January 1. According to Defense Minister Esen Topoev, the pay raise has necessitated cuts elsewhere in the military budget, so as to avoid a net increase in that budget. The country is indeed in no position to increase military and security expenditures because, according to Prime Minister Amangeldy Muraliev, it must struggle to avoid financial default. The foreign debt currently stands at US$1.27 billion, substantially exceeding the 1999 gross domestic product which amounted to US$978 million. External debt service alone amounts to 40 percent of the total budgetary expenditures planned for 2000. Planned salary increases in the public civilian sector have had to be cancelled, even as military pay soared.
Turkey is stepping in with a program of security assistance to Kyrgyzstan. Turkish State Minister Abdulhaluk Cai and a delegation of the General Staff of the Turkish armed forces visited Kyrgyzstan in quick succession last month. The military delegation brought along the first of two donations of military equipment worth US$360,000, with the second donation to follow this month. The equipment consists mostly of basic nonlethal, surplus items such as uniforms, field tents, sleeping bags and communications gear, all of which were in short supply during the recent anti-insurgency operation. Turkey is offering to equip and arm 3,000 Kyrgyz soldiers in the next few years. Motivated in part by Turkic and secularist solidarity, Ankara’s action forms part of a support package to which the United States and Germany are also pledged to contribute. The move seems designed to reduce Kyrgyzstan’s dependence on military assistance from Russia or Uzbekistan, both of which sources proved unreliable during last year’s emergency (Vecherniy Bishkek, Kabar, Bishkek Television, Itar-Tass, December 28-29, 1999; January 2, 4-5).
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