Weekly news wrap

This week in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan has reduced the amount of rent required from Washington for use of the Manas military airbase in the Central Asian country, Financial Times reported on Friday. The Kyrgyz government wanted the Pentagon to pay US $207 million annually for use of the facilities – that support US operations in Afghanistan – a 100-fold increase on what Washington is currently paying for the base.

On Friday, sources close to those involved in negotiations over the base said Bishkek might agree to as little as $15 million per year for the use of Manas, if an aid and investment package was included. The US delegation was expected to return to Washington on Friday, with negotiations ongoing.

The Manas airbase has been more important to the Pentagon since Uzbekistan expelled the US from a base in the south of the country in 2005.

Tajikistan has been praised by the World Bank’s director of East and Central Asia operations, Annette Dixon, saying the country had made impressive progress on stabilising the economy, AFP reported on Wednesday.

Dixon maintained that social progress and the improved business climate would enable the country, which came out of a bloody five-year civil war in 1997, to receive additional assistance through international institutions.

The poorest country in Central Asia will also receive €5 million (some $6.4 million) from the European Commission, the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) reported on Thursday. The humanitarian aid package will focus on improving health and living conditions in the former Soviet republic.

Despite general improvements in the overall economic and social situation in Tajikistan, food insecurity, weak health care systems and limited access to clean water remain. The European Commission has since 1993 allocated some €146 million (some $187 million) to address urgent needs in Central Asia.

Authorities in Turkmenistan allegedly destroyed 1.7 mt of heroin and opium on Sunday, seized between October 2005 and May 2006 by patrols on the country’s border with Afghanistan and Iran, AFP reported on Monday.

According to Mudar Islamov, deputy director of the government agency that coordinates the fight against drug trafficking, the narcotics were burned at a military site at Manych, 15 km outside Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat.

In Uzbekistan, border guards seized 20 kg of heroin in an abandoned bag from an alleged Tajik smuggler trying to cross into Uzbekistan on Wednesday, English General News reported.

The two former Soviet republics border Afghanistan, the world’s leading opium and heroin producer, and are transit countries for Afghan drugs to Europe.