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Kazakhstan has closed its borders with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to prevent the import of meat, animal products, cattle and poultry, agriculture minister Akhmetzhan Yesimov said on Thursday. Yesimov said that the action was taken due to reports of cases of cattle being infected with foot-and-mouth disease have been logged in those countries. "We are strongly concerned over this and we had to close the border," he said, adding that Kazakhstan was not taking any measures to ban the import of poultry from the states where bird flu cases had been reported as, according to the ministry, no poultry were currently being exported to Kazakhstan from those regions. Tashkent has not officially acknowledged the presence of foot-and-mouth disease. TB remains problematic in some parts of Tajikistan and the Tajik Health Ministry have asked international experts and health care organisations to determine the extent of the disease in Vose District of southern Khatlon province. The Tajik Asia Plus news agency reported on Monday, quoting Nusratullo Fayzulloyev, Tajik Health Minister, that over 20 years, TB had killed 1,000 people, including women and children, in this southern district of the country. The report added that the measures being taken by Tajik health care agencies were insufficient to mitigate the problem. Also on Monday, some 46 Tajik labour migrants were deported from Moscow, Asia Plus said. The Tajik Labour and Social Security Ministry was quoted as saying that all those deported were detained by Russian law enforcement agencies for being in the country illegally. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), over 600,000 Tajik seasonal labour migrants travel to Russia each year. Their annual remittances are estimated to be close to the country's annual state budget, making migration one of the key elements of social stability in the impoverished nation of 6.5 million. Staying in that country, Khumdin Sharipov, the interior minister, said on Thursday that Tajikistan would join Interpol, international police agency, at a meeting of the organisation this coming September. Tajikistan had wanted to join the French-based organisation earlier, but couldn't afford the initial membership fee, Sharipov said, adding that Interpol had agreed to waive that fee and reduce other payments given the country's economic situation. In Kyrgyzstan, President Askar Akaev, signed into law controversial changes to the election code on Saturday, the presidential press office said in a statement, adding that these changes would ensure transparent polls. But some critics said it would stifle the opposition's ability to compete fairly in forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections to be held in 2005. The report said the changes would allow local election committees, which control voting and vote counting, to include representatives of political parties and public organisations in addition to local officials. The last elections in Kyrgyzstan in 2000 were evaluated by most international human rights bodies as neither free nor fair. On Tuesday, it was reported that regular Kyrgyz-Uzbek talks on border demarcation had resumed in Bishkek. The drawing up of a draft agreement on the border is expected to be one of the main topics to be discussed. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan share a border, which is over 1,000 km long and in some places it bisects villages and even houses, a fact that has led to tension and instability in border regions. A group of about 80 Uzbek Muslim women gathered in front of Tashkent's interior ministry to express discontent on Saturday, local media reported, adding that the women, whose relatives were jailed on charges of being involved in religious extremism, had decided to gather there every Saturday until the convicts are released. A report by the UN rapporteur on torture, Theo van Boven, found in 2002 that torture in Uzbek jails was systematic and routinely used to terrorise opponents or obtain confessions which sometimes resulted in courts giving the death penalty. But Uzbek foreign minister Sadyk Safaev, said on Tuesday in Brussels that the authorities were cracking down on torture in prisons. "For the first time, the Uzbek civil code has a special article which recognises torture as a crime," he said, adding that fifteen people from the interior ministry were brought to justice and convicted for violating human rights last year. "We can't state that it [torture] is systematic. Systematic means that there are no institutions to fight it, and the government is not serious in eliminating such unfortunate events, which still happen," he said. Meanwhile, the new US ambassador to Uzbekistan, John Robert Purnell, presented his credentials to President Islam Karimov on Wednesday, amid recent reports that relations between Washington and Tashkent could be strained due to Uzbekistan's poor human rights record and the government's reluctance to improve it. Recent reports have questioned whether Tashkent's rights record will result in a review of US aid which is linked to improvements in this field. Uzbekistan is a staunch US ally in the region in the war on terror since 9/11. Hundreds of US soldiers are deployed at the Khanabad air base in southern Uzbekistan near the Afghan border. In neighbouring Kazakhstan, the Kazakh emergency situations agency reportedly said on Tuesday that haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) cases in the West Kazakhstan region had stabilised and as of Monday, 26 out of 27 HFRS-positive people had recovered and been released from hospital. Only one 18-year-old man HFRS-positive, whose condition doctors described as satisfactory, was still in hospital, the report added. The recent cases of HFRS in western Kazakhstan were reported in mid-November 2003. HFRS is an acute viral disease that originates from natural factors, characterised by fever, general intoxication, lesions of the kidneys and thrombotic and haemorrhagic syndrome spread by mouse like rodents. The lower house of the Kazakh parliament on Wednesday endorsed a moratorium on the death penalty ordered by President Nursultan Nazarbayev in December. Nazarbayev's office said the move was intended to further humanise state criminal policy and was a step toward eliminating the death penalty. To take effect, the changes must also be approved by parliament's upper house, the senate. According to Astana's justice ministry, the courts handed down 26 death sentences in 2003. Also on Wednesday, Yklas Nogaev, head of the regional ecology department in the western Mangistau region, told Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency that clearing up the Koshkar-Ata uranium dump, which is 5 km from Aktau city would need substantial funds and take a long time. According to him, a report by scientists on the nuclear dumps noted that work on recultivating the tailing dumps should be carried out first, and for that about some US $3.6 million was needed annually. "We distinctly believe that recultivation work should be carried out. This is expensive, but I think we will find funds to overcome the problem once and for all," Nogayev said. In Turkmenistan, Turkmen and Azeri officials held talks in Ashgabat on Thursday as part of ongoing efforts to divide up the resource-rich Caspian Sea, Turkmen official media said. The talks involving Turkmen foreign minister Rashid Meredov and Azeri deputy foreign minister Halaf Halafov, confirmed a "mutual interest in continuing and deepening the negotiation process in order to reach a mutually acceptable solution," a statement from Turkmenistan's state news agency read. The Caspian Sea countries have moved at snail's pace towards a comprehensive deal on delineating the sea since the Soviet Union's 1991 collapse created four independent littoral republics -- Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Russia and Kazakhstan -- to rival the southern power, Iran. Progress was trumpeted in last November when all five countries signed up to a United Nations-sponsored environmental accord on the Caspian's marine environment, the first legally-binding treaty on any subject signed by the five Caspian Sea states. Meanwhile, it was reported that the rules governing registration of religious groups in Turkmenistan became available this week, although they still have not been published. A new, highly restrictive law on religion was promulgated in November 2003, drawing criticism internationally and heightening anticipation of information on how the law will be implemented. In an address to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Permanent Council, a representative of the US Mission to the OSCE stated on January 22 that while the US welcomed the decision of the government of Turkmenistan to lift exit visa requirements, it remained concerned over the implementation of new laws on public associations and religion.

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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