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Three armed drug couriers from Afghanistan were killed as a result of an exchange of fire with Russian border guards on the Tajik-Afghan border on Wednesday, ITAR-TASS reported. A detail of Russian border guards, along with officers from the Tajik Internal Affairs Ministry directorate combating drug trafficking, spotted five border violators crossing from Afghanistan. During an attempt to arrest them three Afghans were shot dead and one was seriously injured. Border guards found three sacks containing heroin and marijuana at the scene of the incident.

Authorities in Tajikistan in 2003 seized a record haul of 9.64 tons of illegal drugs from neighbouring Afghanistan, the Tajik anti-drugs agency reported Wednesday. Some 5.6 tons of the confiscations consisted of heroin with an estimated ‘wholesale’ value of up to US $ 125 million on the European drugs market. The total ‘street’ value of the heroin could reach four times as much. Tajik officials partly attributed the record figures to improvements in their own detection methods, but also admitted to a sharp increase in the flow of drugs across their borders.

Uzbek migrants are squeezing locals out of the labour market in western Kazakhstan, according to a report by the Kazakh newspaper Vremya on Thursday. The report said Atyrau, the administrative centre of the western Atyrau Region, has become known as a labour Mecca for Uzbeks. "The region will soon face excessive manpower, which may worsen the situation in the labour market, which is unstable as it is," Kazym Batyrkhanov, the chairman of the Atyrau Regional committee of builders'
trade unions, said at a meeting of a regional three-party commission on social partnership.

Concern was expressed over the figures that were mentioned at the meeting. According to official data, in Atyrau there are currently over 33,000 Uzbek citizens who are currently illegally involved in odd jobs, whereas the city's population is less than 160,000. However, it is known that the lion's share of those who come to earn money from neighbouring countries do not get officially registered. The authorities consider that there may well be a well organised employment network for illegal southern migrants at work in the region.
This brings huge profits to influential people who are able to arrange the entry of cheap manpower into Kazakhstan without them being registered with the migration services and provided with labour permits.

Kazakhstan and Russia have completed the mapping of approximately 7,350 km of their joint border - that is 98 per cent of the total length of the borders, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev said in an interview with the Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency on Thursday. "We are completing talks on the remaining disputed areas," he said. The Kazakh and Russian presidents, Nursultan Nazarbayev and Vladimir Putin, are expected to instruct their governments to complete the process of the delimitation of state borders in 2004 and submit a relevant agreement to the heads of state for signing. The Kazakh-Russian border is the longest land borderline in the world.

Turkmenistan has abolished exit visas, which were imposed earlier on its citizens wishing to travel abroad, the Turkmen Foreign Ministry reported on Wednesday. "A citizen can exit from Turkmenistan upon the presentation of his or her passport and an entry visa issued by a foreign state or a document confirming their right to enter a foreign state," the ministry statement read.

On March 1, 2003, Turkmenistan introduced a procedure under which a person wishing to travel abroad was obliged to apply for a permission from the Foreign Ministry consular department, which was to be put into a national passport. Such applications were supposed to be considered within about a month, but many Turkmen had to wait months to get a decision on whether they could leave.

"In line with universally recognised international standards and principles, Turkmen citizens are fully guaranteed their right to freedom of movement, including an unimpeded exit from the country and the choice of a place for permanent residence in other countries," the document read.

An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease has been reported in Kyrgyzstan, local media said on Tuesday. Officials closed some livestock markets in the northern part of the country after veterinarians registered dozens of cases of the disease among cattle, the Kyrgyz AKI press news agency said, quoting Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Officials said the infected cattle came from Kazakhstan, prompting Kyrgyzstan to impose strict control on the transportation of cattle from that country. Last November, an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease was reported in Kyrgyzstan's southern Batken region.

A total of 63 head of cattle died of suspected foot-and-mouth in the Shahrikhon District of Andizhan Region in eastern Uzbekistan in the past month, according to an Uzbek opposition web site. Tashkent has been reluctant to confront the livestock disease, increasing the chances of a wider outbreak, observers charge. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), foot-and-mouth is the most contagious of animal diseases. In animals it is recognised by acute fever, followed by the development of blisters in the mouth and on the feet. The disease also affects humans, but only rarely.

The Asian Development Bank(ADB) has approved a US $73.2 million loan to implement a project to restore the Amy Zang irrigation system, which provides five districts in the Surkhandarya Region of southern Uzbekistan with water, Uzbek newspaper Narodnoye Slovo, reported on Wednesday.

The irrigation system includes several pump stations on the Amu Darya river which pump water into about 96,800 ha of arable land. The repair work will radically change the situation in the region and make it possible to increase cotton and grain production.

Switzerland is promoting the production of organic cotton in southern Kyrgyzstan, by training farmers in "fertilizer-free" agriculture, Swissinfo reported on Tuesday. In turn, Swiss companies have been asked to purchase Kyrgyzstan's "bio-cotton" to help farmers fund their transition.

"Finally, I feel like a real farmer," Kurbashev Mirzaakim told Swissinfo. A former army officer who was given a plot of land by the Kyrgyzstan government when it privatised the country's collective farms in 1996, Mirzaakim spent the summer learning about organic cotton production. Along with around 20 other participants, he completed a course run by Swiss agronomists. The Swiss charity, Helvetas, is being financed by the Swiss Development Agency and the World Bank for its work in Kyrgyzstan.

The European Union (EU) has issued a statement welcoming the Kazakh leadership's decision to declare a moratorium on the death penalty. "The European Union considers that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev's decision is a significant step towards ensuring the protection of human rights in Kazakhstan and is a major contribution to the complete abolishment of capital punishment," the Kazakh Foreign Minister said in a press release Tuesday.

The ministry's press release said that the EU noted in the statement "with satisfaction" that the moratorium has come into force immediately and will be in effect until the death penalty has been completely abolished in Kazakhstan.The EU statement also says that abolishing capital punishment will increase the value of human dignity and promote "gradual" human rights development.

A senior rights activist in Uzbekistan charged Tuesday that torture by police and in prisons was increasing despite promises by the Uzbek president to look into such charges filed by the United Nations, AFP reported. "Torture was being conduct en masse and they are still using it today in criminal investigation units and prisons," Talib Yakubov, who heads the Uzbek Human Rights Society, told AFP. "Torture is a now a part of the nation's political policy," he said. "And it is the government's leaders who created this torture structure."
He said his organisation has sent several appeals to Uzbek President Islam Karimov - a key ally of the US campaign in Afghanistan - but has received no answer from his administration.

International rights groups have consistently charged that torture is widely used by law enforcement authorities in the Central Asian former Soviet republic. The United Nations' special repporteur on torture issued a report in April 2002 after visiting Uzbekistan, charging that abuses of prisoners in the republic was "systematic."

The secretary-general of Uzbekistan’s Birlik People's Movement Party, Vasila Inoyatova (also known as Vasila Inoyat) finally learned on Monday that the Justice Ministry had turned down the party's registration bid for the second time, Uzbek opposition magazine Harakat’s web site reported.

The justice ministry said registration had not been possible because not enough information had been provided about potential members and that an insufficient number of local branches had been submitted.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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