Weekly news wrap

An Uzbek citizen has been shot dead in the latest altercation in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan's tense border, media reports said on Saturday. The two countries gave sharply differing accounts of the incident, which occurred on Friday afternoon in the border zone between the Uzbek capital Tashkent and the southern Kazakh town of Saryagash.

Fatal shootings are not unusual on Uzbekistan's borders, most of which are unratified, reflecting the strained relations that have hampered this region since its countries broke from Moscow in 1991. The Kazakh-Uzbek border is a particular trouble-spot due to the Uzbek capital's proximity and has been extra-tense since the arrest last year of several Kazakh citizens accused of involvement in a series of blasts and shoot-outs in Uzbekistan that left around 50 people dead.

A new programme was launched in Uzbekistan to help intensify the country's struggle against HIV/AIDS, Uzbek newspaper Narodnoye Slovo reported on Saturday. The project, supported by the UN Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, is expected to target high-risk groups, the report said. The programme envisages reaching at least 70 percent of HIV sufferers in the country over the next few years and providing treatment for them, the report added. According to the Uzbek HIV/AIDS centre, there are over 4,000 officially registered cases in the country.

Also in Uzbekistan, the trial of six people accused of suicide attacks on the US and Israeli embassies and a state prosecutor's office that left four dead, began on Tuesday, AFP reported. A court official said two women and four men appeared at the central court in Tashkent, charged with the 30 July blasts which killed four Uzbek security guards at the embassies as well as some of the bombers.

Global media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RWB), censured Kazakhstan on Monday for shutting down an independent Internet site that reported the state's closure of an opposition party in the ex-Soviet republic. Paris-based RWB said that the site of the opposition group Ak Zhol was closed days after it reported the government's decision to bar the opposition Democratic Choice party from taking part in upcoming parliamentary elections. A Kazakh court has ruled that Democratic Choice is an "extremist" party.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is to monitor general elections in Kyrgyzstan in February, the Vienna-based organisation said on Tuesday. The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) will deploy an Election Observation Mission for the 27 February parliamentary election in the Central Asian state. The OSCE monitoring team is to be headed by the Slovakian Lubomir Kopaj, in addition to 30 other staff. Seventeen of the 55 nations in the organisation, which specialises in monitoring elections, are to be represented in the teams.

A group of NGOs in Kyrgyzstan, the For Democracy and Civic Society coalition, has registered a number of violations of election laws during the ongoing parliamentary election campaign, Interfax reported on Tuesday. Monitoring of the election period conducted by the coalition uncovered several violations, the coalition's chairman Edil Baisalov told a news conference.

"The coalition is concerned about several matters, in particular the refusal to register former Kyrgyz ambassadors, the unbalanced coverage of election-related developments in the pro-government media and also the tightening of rules for holding meetings and rallies," he said. Baisalov said that members of local councils were being included in district election commissions, especially in the provinces, which was banned by law.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has increased financing of its programmes in Central Asia, the Tajik Avesta news agency reported this week, citing head of ICRC mission, Luc Haas. Haas said ICRC was planning to allocate 10 million Swiss francs (US $ 8.4 million) for implementation of its programmes in the region. He added that ICRC would pay greater attention to the implementation of mine awareness programmes and the penitentiary system.

Tajikistan appealed for $100 million in foreign aid to help stem a flood of heroin from Afghanistan flowing to Europe across its territory, the head of the Tajik border guards said on Wednesday. Reuters reported that Afghan heroin, which costs just $1,000 per kg at the Tajik border, makes its way to Russia across vast but sparsely populated ex-Soviet Central Asia. Prices soar to $100,000-300,000 per kg when the drug reaches Western Europe.

Russian border guards still control most of the Central Asian state's 1,340 km mountainous border with Afghanistan. But by next year Tajikistan will take over the border controls. "We need an additional 307 million somoni ($100 million) to buy communication equipment, vehicles and uniforms,'' Nuralisho Nazarov, Tajik border guard chief of staff, said. The Tajik government has requested that donor states and the United Nations provide the $100 million package, he said.

The Tajik Avesta news agency reported on Wednesday that the UN would further support Tajikistan’s anti-narcotics drive. "One of the main problems the world community has been facing to date is drugs," the regional representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) in Central Asia, James Callaghan, said in Dushanbe on Wednesday. He said that to date, no country had been able to tackle this problem alone. Regional countries should conduct a joint fight against drugs for this, Callaghan said.