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Weekly news wrap

In Central Asia this week, Turkmen authorities on Wednesday condemned a wave of criticism of its poor human rights record in the wake of a visit by the chairman of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE ). According to a foreign ministry statement, talks between President Saparmyrat Niyazov and Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer were highly productive, with De Hoop Scheffer praising Turkmenistan’s “readiness for dialogue and cooperation”.

The ministry sharply criticised all media reports of OSCE’s condemnation of Turkmenistan’s poor rights record, saying that “it is obvious that certain circles unfriendly to Turkmenistan are behind such falsifications”. During his visit, De Hoop Scheffer expressed concern about two pieces of legislation recently passed in Turkmenistan concerning the crime of “betrayal of the Motherland” and the travel ban imposed on Turkmen nationals, and called on Niyazov to respect due legal process and allow the OSCE to monitor trials.

On Thursday, a former foreign minister, in jail in his homeland for leading a plot to kill the president, is being tortured and is “near death”, Reuters quoted a source close to the dissident as saying. Boris Shikhmuradov admitted involvement in the attempted assassination of Niyazov in a televised confession that human rights groups compared to Stalin-era show trials, and has not been seen since. “He [Shikhmuradov] is in a grave condition, and near death,” said the source, who asked not to be identified. “I have been told he is being tortured.” Niyazov, who is at the centre of a personality cult in the authoritarian former Soviet republic, was not harmed when gunmen fired at his car in November.

United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Bernard Ramcharan was this week visiting Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in order to enhance dialogue and technical cooperation between the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rightsband these countries. He will be focusing in particular on the implementation of international human rights conventions and norms of the five countries. He will be in the region until 16 March.

The German government will provide no-strings aid worth around US $6.8 million to the Tajik government, Asia Plus reported on Tuesday. A source at the German embassy in the capital, Dushanbe, told the agency that the allocated money would be channelled towards implementing a new project as part of bilateral cooperation for stepping up “assistance to provide food, regional cooperation and stability in Garm and Shoruabad districts of the Republic of Tajikistan”, scheduled for a long-term period.

Also this week, the World Bank unveiled a new lending programme for Tajikistan covering the period 2003-2005 of up to $80 million. The programme is largely based upon, and supportive of, the Poverty Reduction Strategy Programme developed by the Tajik government through a participatory process and adopted by parliament in June 2002.

A new report from the UN International Narcotics Control Board made public this week said that the unabated flow of illegal drugs from Afghanistan through Central Asia is continuing. The former Soviet republics of Central Asia comprise the main transit route for Afghan opium and heroin en route to Russia and Europe. The steady flow of drugs, which returned last year to levels seen in 2000 under the Taliban regime, is leading to more addicts in the region, said Antonella Deledda, Central Asia representative for the UN Office for Drugs and Crime.

In Central Asia, rising abuse is also fuelled by drug couriers being offered in-kind payments of narcotics, according to the annual report of the UN, which was released this week. Drug abuse had risen most sharply in Tajikistan, with an estimated 720 addicts per 100,000 people, the report said. But the rate remains highest in Kyrgyzstan, with 1,644 addicts per 100,000 residents. The ready availability of opiate drugs in Central Asia renders them increasingly the drugs of choice, replacing marijuana. The rise in intravenous drug use had led to an increase in HIV-AIDS infections, the report added.

Kazakh television reported on Monday that around one in three people in the republic still do not have access to clean water. “In all, 30 percent of Kazakhstan’s population drink water from water supply sources that do not meet the standard,” the state’s chief public health officer, Deputy Health Minister Anatoliy Belonog, was quoted as saying. According to Belonog, some work was done last year towards improving the potable water supply system. A total of 128 water supply facilities were restored, artesian wells were drilled in 52 settlements, and water pipelines were built in 15 settlements. However, people in 360 settlements were still having to drink water from open reservoirs, the TV said.

Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency reported this week that telephone connections would be installed over the next three years in 2,000 Kazakh communities currently without a network.

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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