The peoples of the fertile Ferghana Valley have become political pawns since the region splintered into a web of enclaves and unratified borders when the cohabitants-Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan-broke from Soviet rule in 1991, Agence France Presse reports.
But despite a continued US military presence Uzbek foreign ministry spokesman Ilkhom Zakirov insisted that there is still a need for the landmines. "To control the whole border takes a lot of people, special equipment and money, that's why we use landmines far from villages and cities," Zakirov said.
Such arguments play badly in impoverished villages where critics say the mines are part of a wider border control policy designed by autocratic Uzbek President Islam Karimov to prevent imports and foreign currency outflows. Tajikistan and parts of Kyrgyzstan are thus hindered from exporting to traditional ex-Soviet markets by the slivers of Uzbek territory. The cash-strapped republics "will need better neighbors than they currently have in order to develop international trade," Dennis de Tray, the World Bank's regional director, said.
Tajikistan is especially affected as it is hemmed in by mountains to the north, lawlessness in Afghanistan to the south and China's even tougher controls to the east. Per capita income in Tajikistan averaged $13 a month last year, while external debt absorbed nearly half of tax revenues, World Bank statistics show. But Zakirov says that it is not in Uzbek interests to return to the barrier-free trade by which low-lying Uzbekistan traditionally supplied fruit and vegetables to mountainous Kyrgyz and Tajik parts of the Ferghana in exchange for water, dairy products and grazing rights.
In Kyrgyzstan's southern Batken region Governor Mamat Aibalayev insisted that he is seeking constructive solutions such as agricultural support recently won from the European Union. But in nearby Chongara residents say they can barely scrape a living from the village's fruit trees and rely on a cloudy irrigation channel for drinking water.
KNNA Kabar, August 06, 2003