Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kyrgyzstan Update

Even though the reports of unrest from Kyrgyzstan have already dropped from the headlines in the United States just two weeks after a street protest drove the government from power, things in the Central Asian nation are still tense.

While President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has fled the country for exile in Kazakhstan, his supporters staged a huge rally on Saturday in the southern Kyrgyz town of Jalalabad (long a stronghold of Bakiyev backers), seizing control of several buildings, including the studios of the local television station. And more troubling to the fledgling new government of Kyrgyzstan, the rally in Jalalabad included members of the police force and the former Defense Minister, all protesting against the uprising that deposed Bakiyev on April 7. Meanwhile the new Kyrgyz government is telling their neighbors they expect that Bakiyev will be returned to them for possible criminal prosecution and not treated as a political refugee.

Among the charges that Bakiyev would likely face is embezzlement. Kyrgyzstan’s interim leader Roza Otunbayeva told the UK’s Guardian newspaper that Bakiyev plundered the Kyrgyz budget, leaving behind a grand total of $80 million in the national coffers – not a lot to run a country on. Much of the theft came in the form of sweetheart deals between the Bakiyev-led government and the Bakiyev family and a close circle of supporters. One of those deals now under scrutiny is a contract between a company called Mina Corp. and the United States government to supply fuel to US aircraft based at Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan. Manas is central to US military operations in Afghanistan; the new Kyrgyz government though alleges that Mina Corp. was owned by members of the Bakiyev family, including the former president himself and that the deal was little more than a way to funnel government funds to the Bakiyev family. They would like to know what exactly the United States knew about the operation of Mina Corp. and its ties to the Bakiyev clan.

There’s also some question on whether the United States will be allowed to even continue operating at Manas. Immediately after coming to power, the interim Kyrgyz government assured the US they would honor the lease agreement for Manas signed by Bakiyev last year, but in recent days other members of the new government have talked about reexamining (and maybe ending) the agreement. Russia was quite displeased by the lease agreement between Kyrgyzstan and the United States for Manas, since the overthrow of Bakiyev, Russia has been actively courting the new government, which could lead to pressure to end the lease on Manas. That ties in with reporting from the Asia Times the change in government could have a wider affect on US-Kyrgyz relations, especially when it comes to US military activity in their country. The Times says that in addition to supplying Afghanistan, the United States also used Manas to spy into China’s Xinjiang Region. Xinjiang has been in the news lately because of the ongoing conflicts between Beijing and the Uighur ethnic group (something we've followed here), but Xinjiang is also home to a number of sites related to China’s ballistic missile program. Since Kyrgyzstan also has a Uighur population, speculation in the Asia Times is that the United States may have hoped to use the Uighurs for covert operations within China, plans that are likely derailed due to the change in the Kyrgyz government.
Sphere: Related Content

No comments: