Kyrgyzstan: Officials Sound Alarm on Arms Proliferation
A spokesman at Kyrgyzstan’s Interior Ministry has acknowledged that only about half of the small arms that went missing during the country’s 2010 political and ethnic violence have been accounted for. The “huge number” of weapons floating about is “enough to carry out another revolution in the country,” believes the chairman of parliament’s defense and security committee. Bishkek’s 24.kg news agency reported this week that security forces lost about 1,200 small arms and light weapons – including assault rifles, grenade launchers and pistols – during the political violence that unseated President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on April 7, 2010, and during ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in and around Osh that June. (Some reports have said security forces distributed guns and armored vehicles to ethnic Kyrgyz, or at least did little to stop violent gangs from commandeering them.) Though 24.kg’s numbers don’t quite add up, the report says only 49 percent of the 1,177 arms lost have been returned, and authorities fear many of the rest may be available on the black market.There, an unused Makarov pistol goes for about $1,500; a Kalashnikov (AK-47) for about $1,000; and grenades for a rocket-propelled (RPG) launcher cost between $300 and $500 a pop, says 24.kg. A Dragunov sniper rifle, which can hit a target 800 meters away, costs about $4,000, according to the agency.Retired Major General Artur Medetbekov of the National Security Committee estimates the annual illicit turnover in small arms in Kyrgyzstan is worth $500,000, he told 24.kg. Weapons also come from Afghanistan, via Tajikistan, along major drug-trafficking routes. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates approximately 25 percent of Afghan narcotics transit Central Asia, most through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan; researchers believe drug running and gun running often go hand in hand. Combatting the trafficking is difficult, particularly as senior officials – most recently a police major – have been implicated in the trade. A year ago, Aziza Abdurasulova, head of the respected Kylym Shamy human rights group, accused one current parliamentarian of handing out arms to civilians during the 2010 ethnic violence (when he was a district attorney). In that particular case, the Defense Ministry claimed all those weapons were returned. Stay tuned for more. 24.kg promises to answer some tough questions: “Who in Kyrgyzstan is interested in acquiring arms? Do political parties have their own ‘small armies’? What kinds of weapons do bodyguards of businessmen and politicians use? We will talk about this next time.”
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.