Relations between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan took a downturn this week following several incidents on their common border. On Thursday, Bishkek expressed "deep concern" over Tashkent's decision to drop an official inquiry into the killing of a Kyrgyz citizen by Uzbek border guards last July.
Whereas Uzbek foreign ministry spokesman Ilkhom Zakirov described the shooting as accidental and provoked by an attack on the Uzbek border patrol, a statement by his Kyrgyz counterpart dismissed the explanation, saying such a categorical attempt to defend its servicemen without objective consideration of the circumstances only caused tension and damaged the atmosphere of friendship, stability and trust in the border area. His comments follow a second incident in less than a week, when Uzbek border guards shot two people dead and injured two, including a Kyrgyz citizen.
Since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, a web of undemarcated borders and enclaves has continued to mar relations in the region, most prominently in the populous Ferghana Valley. Unilateral attempts by Uzbekistan to demarcate its borders for security purposes, as well as protect its economy, by frequently closing border crossing points and laying landmines along border areas, have exasperated its poorer neighbours, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Tensions along the border are frequent given the dependency of people on crossing borders for trade or visits to relatives on the other side.
On Thursday, the EC granted Tajikistan €12 million to equip its 1,161-km border with Uzbekistan and clear it of landmines that have killed some 70 people over the past five years.
Also on Thursday, the EU's Tacis programme opened a regional conference for the heads of Central Asian country offices in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. The two-day conference aims to review Tacis's current and future operations in the region.
On the financial front, the 62-nation Asian Development Band (ADB) announced plans on Thursday to issue up to US $150 million in loans to Uzbekistan. The loans, to be issued to Central Asia's most populous nation between 2004 and 2006, "will promote economic growth through higher agricultural productivity, human development through health, education sector reforms and good governance and enterprise reform," the ADB said.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, impoverished Kyrgyzstan appealed to its creditors, including Washington, Berlin, the IMF and the World Bank, to write off US $1.6 billion of its debts in exchange for Kyrgyz spending on the environment. The so-called debt-for-environment swaps have reportedly proved to be a widely recognised development tool in recent years, worth about $1 billion between their establishment in 1987 and 2000. The water-rich nation provides much of the water for Central Asia, but faces acute problems due to frequent flooding, resulting in loss of life and the contamination of water supplies.
In other development news, a regional seminar entitled "Communication Strategy for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in Central Asia: Development and Implementation", was held in Tashkent on Monday. Attending the two-day meeting were delegates from state and non-state organisations and media from each of the Central Asian states, except Turkmenistan. The educational programme of the seminar was aimed at working out a strategy for a "Life without Violence", a campaign to be conducted worldwide from 25 November to 10 December.
Lastly in Turkmenistan, criticism of that country's human rights record continued to come in, following the conclusion of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Human Dimension Implementation meeting on Friday in Warsaw. In particular, members of the US mission to the OSCE cited the issues of freedom of assembly, movement, religious and media freedom, and the failure of the Ashgabat government to provide legal remedies for human rights violations, as did the OSCE's Rapporteur on Turkmenistan, Emmanuel Decaux.
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