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Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on Monday signed water and energy supply deals and discussed other long standing issues in an effort to improve strained relations. The visiting Tajik Prime Minister, Akil Akilov, reached agreement with his Uzbek counterpart Shavkat Mirziyayev on mutual energy and water supplies for 2004. Tajikistan relies heavily on Uzbek gas and fuel supplies while Uzbekistan's cotton industry, one of the essential sectors in the economy, depends on water coming down from the Pamir Mountains in Tajik territory. Uzbek Foreign Ministry spokesman Ilkhom Zakirov said that the visit by Akilov and other senior ministers signalled a mutual desire to finally sit down and discuss a wide range of cooperation issues, adding that the two countries wanted to expand political ties and cooperate in fighting terrorism, religious extremism and drug trafficking. Ties between the two Central Asian nations deteriorated in the mid-1990s after Tajikistan accused Uzbekistan of secretly sheltering and arming Tajik opposition leaders during Tajikistan's five-year civil war, while Uzbekistan later accused Tajikistan of allowing regional militant Islamic groups to set up bases on its territory. Tajikistan also demanded Uzbekistan remove land mines which it planted in 2000 along its borders with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan after the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) incursions into Uzbekistan from those territories. The Tajik-Uzbek border has been unmarked since before the 1991 Soviet break-up, and border area residents often unknowingly cross it. In one of the most recent incidents, two people, a man and a woman, were killed on 24 December by a land mine while collecting firewood near the Uzbek border, Tajik border service officials said. Tajik sources say 56 Tajiks have been killed and 58 wounded since Uzbekistan began planting land mines on its borders with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in 2000. A total of 1,500 antipersonnel mines had been destroyed in Tajikistan, a Russian media outlet reported on Tuesday. They were destroyed within the framework of the Ottawa convention of 1997, baning the production, stockpiling and use of antipersonnel mines, the report said, quoting Jonmahmad Rajabov, the head of the Tajik Mine Action Centre. He also reportedly said that the remaining several thousands antipersonnel mines in the Defence Ministry's depots would be destroyed by April 2004. Russian border guards patrolling the Tajik-Afghan frontier killed at least 15 smugglers and seized more than five mt of drugs in 2003, a sharp rise from the previous year's figures, border guard officials said. Over 5.3 mt of drugs, including over 2.7 mt of heroin - a 26-percent increase over last year - were seized in 24 incidents at the border, the border guard press service said on Wednesday. "Russian border guards are particularly concerned that poppy plantations have moved to Afghanistan's northeastern provinces bordering Tajikistan," the report said. The frontier between the two countries runs for more than 1,300 km and is the main crossing point for Afghan drugs entering Europe. Afghanistan is the world's biggest producer of opium and heroin. The US is expected to provide US $30-40 million for the Tajik-Afghan border bridge project, which will help reopen historic trade routes between Afghanistan and Central Asia and increase economic integration in the region, according to a press release issued on Wednesday by the US Embassy in Dushanbe. United States Ambassador Richard Hoagland and the Minister of Transport of Tajikistan Abdujalil Salimov signed a bilateral agreement for the construction of the bridge over the Pyanj River. Construction could begin in early 2004, and, once begun, is expected to take 18 months. The 670-metre bridge would be built to international seismic standards, the report said. Tajikistan provided support for the US-led military campaign that overthrew the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001 and has been a staging post for the delivery of international aid to its southern neighbour. Tajik President Emomali Rahmonov had signed a government resolution stipulating the provision, beginning from Friday, of obligatory one-off aid to the people who suffered from natural disasters, the Russian ITAR-TASS news agency said on Thursday, adding that the document envisaged that each family would be given about 100 dollars per lost person. They would also be given the same amount of money to repair their partly-damaged houses. The average monthly salary in the Central Asian nation is some US $11. According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Dushanbe, some 70,000 people were left homeless by disastrous earthquakes, landslides and floods that hit the country from 1993 to 2002. In Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev had extended a moratorium on the death penalty in the country for another year, the president's press office said on Thursday, adding that the order to continue the moratorium until the end of 2004 was signed by Akayev on Wednesday. Akayev introduced a two-year moratorium on the death penalty in December 1998 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and extended it in the three following years. Under a national human rights programme adopted in recent years, Kyrgyzstan aims to abolish the death penalty by 2010. In Kazakhstan, Kazakh citizenship had been granted to over 10,000 people on the eve of the New Year, state media said on Monday, quoting President Nursultan Nazarbayev decree to that effect. The Kazakh presidential administration reported that most of the new citizens were ethnic Kazakh repatriates [oralmans] who had arrived in Kazakhstan from CIS member states and outside the CIS. On Tuesday, a Kazakh court had ruled to allow Sergey Duvanov, a journalist and opposition activist, who's been convicted of rape, serve the rest of his prison sentence in a special settlement instead of a jail, rights activists said on Tuesday. In a statement, the Almaty-based International Human Rights Bureau said that the Kapchagay district court had ruled that Duvanov, who wrote a number of publications about corruption allegations against the president and members of his inner circle, be transferred to a special settlement where convicts can move freely and have more access to media, telephones and visitors than they would in jail. Duvanov was sentenced in January to 3.5 years in prison for raping a 14-year-old girl. His conviction has been internationally criticised as being part of a crackdown on independent media in the country

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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