Thu, Aug 17, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Kyrgyzstan tilts away from West

TURNAROUND After expelling US diplomats and extraditing five UN-sanctioned refugees, the country seems to be turning toward Russia

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , KARA-SUU, KYRGYZSTAN

A growing series of recent government actions, including the killing last week of a popular religious leader by government security forces in this restive southern border town, has many here calling into question the pro-Western orientation of Kyrgyzstan.

Expectations that the Central Asian nation would lead its neighbors toward a pro-Western -- and especially pro-US -- alignment crested after it ousted its president in March last year. The so-called Tulip Revolution was part of a wave of "colored revolutions" that overthrew leaders aligned with Russia in Georgia and Ukraine and swept into power pro-Western administrations.

But last month, Kyrgyzstan suddenly expelled two US envoys, the first expulsion of US diplomats from any Central Asian country. Washington responded by ejecting two Kyrgyz diplomats.

Last week, the government of Kyrgyzstan repatriated five Uzbeks with UN-sanctioned refugee status whom Uzbekistan's authoritarian government wanted to try in connection with an uprising last year in the Uzbek city of Andijon, in which hundreds were killed by government security forces.

The decision was denounced by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees as being a "shocking" violation of Kyrgyzstan's commitments to the international community.

On Aug. 6, security forces from Krygyzstan and Uzbekistan killed the outspoken imam, Rafiq Qori Kamalov, in his car as he drove down a street in the city of Osh, near the Uzbek border. He and his two passengers were accused by the government of being members of a shadowy British-based organization called Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned by most Central Asian countries. The organization advocates a caliphate, or a unified Islamic government, over all of Central Asia, but says it will not seek this through violence.

A government spokesman, acknowledging the killings, said munitions and a map scrawled with the word jihad were found in the vehicle.

To experts on the region, the events seemed to fit into a deliberate policy shift by the government of Kyrgyzstan.

Traditionally, small Central Asian nations like Kyrgyzstan have tended to balance international relationships rather than cast their lot with one nation over another. But increasingly, say Western diplomats and political analysts here, Kyrgyzstan seems to be embracing Russia and Uzbekistan at the expense of its relationship with the US.

"The Kyrgyz aren't acting in as haphazard a way as it looks," said Michael Hall, Central Asia project director for the International Crisis Group, an independent policy analysis organization.

"Given the demands and conditions from the US, the Kyrgyz are simply thinking it is more in their interest to play along with Russia and Uzbekistan, neighbors that can make life difficult for Kyrgyzstan in the long term," he said.

Here in this border area that is dominated by ethnic Uzbeks, anti-government hostility runs deep, and traditional, politically engaged Islam is an increasingly powerful force. But elsewhere in the country, admiration for the government of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev seems to be growing, while the US presence continues to dim.

"There's unhappiness with the economic situation, especially in the south," said a political analyst with a Western-backed civil society organization. "But while the Krygyz may want a government that is more progressive and is doing more, things are also stable and people seem to have accepted by and large that Bakiyev is in charge."

This story has been viewed 1948 times.
TOP top