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July 26, 2010

Donors Pledge $1.1 Billion to Kyrgyzstan

by James Brooke

Six weeks after ethnic riots shook southern Kyrgyzstan, world donors have pledged $1.1 billion in aid to rebuild the Central Asian nation, home to a key supply base for the NATO war effort in Afghanistan.

In a bid to support the shaky caretaker government through elections in October, donors stipulated that more than half the aid be delivered to Kyrgyzstan before the end of this year.

Last month, a week of inter-ethnic violence destroyed homes, killed hundreds of people and displaced thousands of others.

World Bank official Theodore Ahlers, who co-chaired the donor meeting in the capital, Bishkek, said, ''The world has come to the Kyrgyz Republic's aid in an impressive demonstration of speed and resolve."

Kyrgyzstan's Interim President Roza Otunbayeva told the international donors that her country's 5.5 million people are suffering a jolting economic swing.   Before the rioting, Kyrgyzstan's economy was expected to grow by 5.5 percent this year.  Now experts say the economy could shrink by five percent.

Kygyzstan is home to Manas air base, a U.S. air transit center that is vital to supplying NATO troops in Afghanistan, and many analysts say NATO is concerned that Kyrgyzstan might become a failed state.

Eurasia analyst Anders Aslund of the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has worked as an economic advisor to Kyrgyzstan.  He says the amount of international aid the country is expected to receive is reasonable. "The risk is destabilization.  And the risk is that there is not a firm central government.  In Kyrgyzstan, that will be cooperative that things can get out of hand," he said.

At the core of the ethnic strife in Kyrygzstan is the economic success of minority Uzbeks living in the southern part of the country.  Many Kyrygyz fear that their country's Uzbek minority enjoys the support of neighboring Uzbekistan, Central Asia's most populous nation with 28 million inhabitants.

Last week, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay reported security forces in southern Kyrgyzstan are arbitrarily detaining and torturing large numbers of Uzbek residents, mostly young men.  The interim government says the June violence claimed victims from both ethnic communities and that ethnic Uzbeks have not been singled out.

Since the June violence, more than 1,000 people have been detained in the two most affected cities - Osh and Jalalabad.

After last month's violence, Uzbek residents told visiting reporters that Kyrgyz soldiers and armored personnel carriers were used to attack their neighborhoods.  Representatives of the interim government in Bishkek deny the allegations. 

Last month, Russia rejected appeals by the interim government to send peacekeeping troops to southern Kyrgyzstan.  This week, 52 foreign police officers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are expected to arrive in Kyrgyzstan.

But International Crisis Group Central Asia analyst Paul Quinn Judge says it could be a rocky reception. "There are a number of protests, not terribly spontaneous, but very noisy about the idea of them coming in.  There are very powerful political figures in the south, where they are going to be deployed, who have made it clear that they do not like the idea at all.  So even something as small and token as a police deployment in the south is viewed with a lack of enthusiasm by many within the political structures,'' he said.

Protesters in Bishkek on Monday carried signs reading: "OSCE police - a threat from the outside."