Increasingly paranoid about any hint of dissent, the governments of China and Uzbekistan are bullying their neighboring states and demanding the forcible repatriation of their critics who have escaped harassment or imprisonment by fleeing across the border. The fugitives' total number may be only in the hundreds, but the rulers in Beijing and Tashkent expend disproportionate time and energy in tracking down even a few of them, some as far away as Ukraine and Turkey.
All the governments involved have signed the UN conventions which prohibit the deportation of political refugees to a country where they may face prosecutions that would violate their human rights. But letters of protest from human rights organizations reminding these two governments of their legal obligations have not elicited meaningful responses. Nor does it seem to bother the authorities handing over the refugees that they will be tortured, subjected to patently unfair trials, and in some cases executed.
Those who track forcible repatriation are especially concerned because they know that they have information about only a fraction of the number of such cases they believe exist. For instance, virtually nothing is known for certain about Turkmenistan's record. It appears likely that in this region, each state security apparatus, whose interest is in cooperation with opposite numbers across the border, delivers most of the refugees quietly, without following the kind of procedure demanded by the UN, OSCE, or human rights organizations. "Getting information about a person's extradition is a huge challenge for us," says Maureen Greenwood of Amnesty International. "It depends on whether the families have access to the West, and in most cases they do not."
The People's Republic of China has put demands for the forcible repatriation of those who have fled its jurisdiction high on the agenda in its contacts with other states, especially neighbors. From the prime minister down to border guards, Chinese officials continue to demand from their foreign counterparts the extradition of Uighur fugitives, who Beijing suggests, are common criminals. But inside China, Beijing routinely couples such charges with accusations that the Uighurs are "trying to break up the motherland," which have a resonance among Han Chinese sensitive to the historic record of rebels in outlying regions challenging the unity of China.
Kazakhstan, tightly controlled by President Nursultan Nazarbaev, has arrested and deported some fugitives sought by China, as has Kyrgyzstan. But those fortunate enough to find their way to fellow Uighurs settled years ago in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have often been able to hide out and even emigrate to Turkey, which receives them as kinsmen, and the United States. In Uzbekistan, the local Uighur community is closely watched by the authorities, and it is dangerous for any Uzbek to harbor a fugitive from China.
Like China, Uzbekistan appears to be caught up in a wave of hysteria which targets those who do not follow the government line 100 percent. Uzbek President Islam Karimov smears with the tarbrush of militant Islamic extremism any opposition group, whether it is Islamically oriented or not. Observers estimate that his great purge has netted thousands of people, some of them his enemies. It all began after an attempt to assassinate him, which might have been for real, followed by a still unexplained series of bomb explosions in Tashkent on 16 February in which more than a dozen people died.
According to Abdumannob Polat, a Washingtonbased specialist in Central Asian affairs, Karimov has made some headway in foreign capitals with his campaign to round up all the "terrorists" he claims were responsible for the bombings. Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan have been reported to have extradited about 10 alleged plotters each, though unreported extraditions could be several times that number. Ukraine handed over all four men demanded by Karimov, but Turkey delivered only two men out of the 25 or 30 on the list. Turkmenistan too probably responded positively to Karimov, Polat speculates, but there the number of victims returned is not known.
Last month, the "Turkish Daily News" noted that relations between Turkey and Uzbekistan had deteriorated because Turkey sought guarantees that the deportees would not face capital punishment. But Turkey subsequently caved in to Uzbek pressures and expelled Muhammed Salih, leader in exile of the banned Uzbek opposition party Erk, even though he had been granted political asylum.
Where the government is weak and the opposition is vocal, as in Tajikistan, the government has been reluctant to accommodate Karimov. Some Tajik officials would like to please the Uzbek regime, but at least part of the opposition--those with Islamicist tendencies--strongly objects. Pressure from the international human rights community also helps staying the Tajiks' hand.
However the Tajik government is wary of refugees streaming in from Uzbekistan, especially if they are armed, as some of them are, and they represent or may come to represent a threat to public order, which is not very stable. Hundreds of Uzbek refugees have registered with the UN High Commission for Refugees; others have more or less disappeared in the local population.
In both China and Uzbekistan, more arrests and more trials are expected. And such processes seem bound to produce more people fleeing in fear of being swept up in a nightmare dictated from the top. And more refugees will only prove to the leaders that they are surrounded by enemies who must be kept on the run.
UKRAINE, MOLDOVA SIGN BORDER TREATY. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Moldovan counterpart, Petru Luchinschi, meeting in Kyiv on 18 August, signed a treaty defining the border between the two countries. Under a protocol attached to the treaty, Ukraine will control an 8 kilometer section of the Odesa-Izmail road as well as the strip of land on which that part of the road crosses Moldovan territory. In exchange, Moldova will receive a 100-meter strip of land along the Danube River, thus obtaining access to the Black Sea and the possibility of building an oil terminal. The two sides also signed agreements aimed at boosting trade and customs cooperation. JM
OFFICIAL CASTS DOUBT ON UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS' VALIDITY. Mykhaylo Ryabets, head of the Central Electoral Commission, said on 18 August that the Supreme Court's order to register the six presidential candidates who were originally rejected by the commission may threaten the validity of the entire ballot. The court ruled that the commission had violated procedures while checking voters' signatures. However, it did not comment on the validity of signatures submitted by the six candidates. Since those candidates did not produce the required number of signatures (at least 1 million), presidential hopefuls who lose the 31 October vote will be able to appeal the election results and have the elections invalidated, Ryabets argued. JM
ROMANIA, RUSSIA AGREE ON DEBT SETTLEMENT. Returning from Moscow on 18 August, Finance Ministry State Secretary Gheorghe Banu said he and his Russian counterpart, Alexei Kutrin, have signed an agreement on settling Russia's $21.7 million debt to Romania, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Under the agreement, Russia will deliver machinery by 31 December 2000. Banu noted, however, that no agreement has been reached on the dispute concerning Romanian investments in Ukraine's Kryvyy Rih mineral extraction complex. Bucharest says it invested some 93.4 million transferable rubles before the breakup of the former Soviet Union. The Russian side insists on tripartite negotiations involving Ukraine. According to Banu, a trilateral meeting might take place by the end of next month. MS