Weekly News Wrap

In Central Asia this week a new report from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) suggests a growing number of young Uzbek women in the central Samarkand region were abandoning their children. “In February alone, Samarkand police found nine children who were left by their parents in streets,” the report said.

A few years ago, the vast majority of children being brought up in orphanages and boarding schools were children from disadvantaged families or genuine orphans. But currently, “of 3,000 children who are being brought up in Samarkand Region’s orphanages and boarding schools, only 12 per cent are real orphans, and the rest came from low-income families”, the web site said. The report went on to say that a number of women were seen in city markets selling their kids for just over five dollars.

Also in Uzbekistan, President Islam Karimov has signed a decree to loosen state control in the agricultural sector, the Uzbek newspaper Pravda Vostoka reported on Tuesday. The new decree gives farmers the freedom to decide what to produce and how to sell their products, so that they can make deals with buyers and suppliers of services independently. It also enables farmers to lease land for a period of up to 50 years with the right of inheritance during this period. The decree instructs the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources to abandon what are refered to as “command” methods of management.

On Monday a Kyrgyz appeals court upheld a 25-year prison sentence against a former member of the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), AFP quoted justice officials as saying. The Batken regional court in southern Kyrgyzstan last week turned down Sherali Akbotoyev’s appeal against his conviction in February. He had demanded that the charges of terrorism, hostage-taking and organising a criminal group against him be dropped. Akbotoyev, 41, was found guilty of terrorism as a member of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a terrorist group that has been linked to Osama bin Laden.

Akbotoyev was detained in an unspecified foreign country and extradited in May 2002 to Kyrgyzstan, where the group has been blamed for a series of incursions and the kidnappings of four American mountain climbers and several Japanese geologists. The United States designated the group a terrorist organization in 2000. The group emerged in Uzbekistan in the late 1990s and later drew members from neighboring Central Asian countries. It is believed to have been seriously weakened after the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan following the 11 September attacks.

Meanwhile in Kazakhstan, the Associated Press reported on Friday that ecologists had warned of what they called a looming environmental catastrophe as an underground lake of kerosene seeped toward the Irtysh River, which runs through Siberia and feeds into the mighty Ob. The lake was formed in the mid-1970s from a leak in a fuel station at a military air base near Semipalatinsk, now known as Semey, a town in eastern Kazakhstan where the Soviet Union had its largest testing ground for nuclear weapons.

The lake contains approximately 6,400 mt of kerosene and covers some 400,000 square metres according to environmental experts. Two years ago, a private company won a state tender to start draining the kerosene, but it pumped out just 30 metric tons (33 tons). Since a new tax code was passed in 2002, giving local governments responsibility for financing all environmental clean-up, the Semey administration has been unable to come up with funds to continue removing the kerosene.