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Rights activists condemn aspects of OSCE police assistance

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Rights activists in Kyrgyzstan have strongly criticised a recent agreement between the government and the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on a comprehensive police assistance programme.

"Police today in Kyrgyzstan are a tool used for suppressing civil initiatives, and they need to be trained and reformed to be professional," Tolekan Ismailova, head of the Civil Society Against Corruption (CSAC), a local NGO, told IRIN from the capital, Bishkek. She said that the component of the project on the resolution of conflict situations and prevention of public disorders was the main source of concern.

"We are against this component," Ismailova said, asserting that under it the police would be supplied with special equipment worth some US $1 million, including water cannons, handcuffs and rubber bullets. She said CSAC did not oppose the project as a whole, but pointed out that the state of the country was such that it was inapproriate for the police to be armed before "the political transformation" - meaning future general and presidential elections - had taken place.

"The OSCE - without consulting and taking into consideration the situation in Kyrgyzstan - decided to finance especially that part which is aimed at meetings, demonstrations and the discontent of citizens against the official power," Emil Aliev, the leader of the opposition Ar-Namys party, told IRIN. He went on to say in this context that since the nation gained independence in 1991 there had been no cases of people opposing or targeting the political status quo, but only of expressing their views.

Meanwhile, Richard Monk, the OSCE's head of the Strategic Police Matters Unit in Vienna, defended the organisation's plans. He told IRIN that the programme itself comprised eight different projects, but only one of them was designed to assist the Kyrgyz police in dealing with and preventing public disorder. "A very small part of the project undertakes to provide them with equipment which will enable them to ascend [to higher] levels of seriousness to deal with violence if it is indeed presented to them," he said.

Monk went on to say that the purpose of the programme as a whole was to improve the performance of the police, with particular reference to improving their relations with the public. In this respect, he pointed out that the police were aware that their public relations could become much better, and that one of the projects, community policing, would be dealing with this aspect.

"The most important thing is that all these technical projects are underpinned by ethical policing principles," he noted, adding that over the next two weeks an international expert in community policing, who had dealt most of his life with ethnic and public protest groups, would be involved in explaining to those NGOs who had been critical the logic on which the programme was based, and thereby to try to lay to rest all their concerns.

Monk said OSCE also intended to invite the NGOs to appoint two representatives to become members of the state commission on police reforms, and two others to sit on the programme's executive steering committee. "There is absolute openness, transparency and, no doubt, we are not hiding anything," he stressed.

The agreement launching the comprehensive OSCE police assistance programme aimed at establishing community policing, improving the quality of criminal investigation and strengthening the emergency response capacity of the police force, was signed with the OSCE Centre in Bishkek on 7 August.

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