OSCE Police Mission for Kyrgyzstan Stalls
An OSCE police advisory mission had been expected to be deployed in strife-torn southern Kyrgyzstan by the end of August. But given the Central Asian nation’s muddled political situation, it now looks like the deployment won’t happen until late October, if at all.
Some prominent Kyrgyz political figures -- led by Melis Myrzakmatov, the combative and independent-minded mayor of Osh -- have staunchly opposed the deployment of a foreign mission on Kyrgyz soil. Internal opposition has prompted provisional President Rosa Otunbayeva to backtrack on deployment plans. The issue has become so politicized that sources close to the OSCE police mission believe deployment is unlikely to proceed before parliamentary elections on October 10. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].
Ethnic violence southern Kyrgyzstan in June left at least 400 dead and 400,000 displaced. Two international-led investigations found fault with the response of Kyrgyz law enforcement officials, helping to prompt Otunbayeva to ask the OSCE to send a police-monitoring mission. On July 22, the OSCE Permanent Council agreed to send a 52-member, unarmed Police Advisory Group to train and assist Kyrgyz law enforcement officers. The initial deployment was to be for four months in and around Osh.
But after requesting the police mission, Otunbayeva’s provisional administration has hesitated to approve formally the OSCE Permanent Council’s decision. Experts link the delay to domestic political factors, citing the fact that the announcement prompted loud protests in Osh and a smaller level of opposition in Bishkek.
The protests created a painful dilemma for Otunbayeva: going ahead with the deployment could alienate important Kyrgyz constituencies ahead of the parliamentary voting, potentially hurting her political allies at the polls. But backing down would also have its drawbacks, namely creating the appearance of the provisional government’s losing a power struggle to the self-styled “nationalist” Myrzakmatov. The Osh mayor has utilized the OSCE mission issue in recent weeks to strengthen his political position, turning himself into a political player who is seen as operating beyond Bishkek’s control. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].
Throughout August, bowing to political realities in southern Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek tried to restrict the OSCE mission’s mandate, Western officials tell EurasiaNet.org. Some sources say Bishkek sought to keep the police force in the capital, rather than allow OSCE representatives to operate in the South.
While now reluctant to host an OSCE force, Bishkek is clearly reluctant to cancel the mission because it would doubtless alienate the international community, which promised over $1 billion in aid in late July, much of it reportedly dependent on Myrzakmatov’s removal. An additional complication is that ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan tend to view outside police advisors as the best hope for restoring a sense of stability in the area. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].
A turning point in the police mission saga came on August 20, when Otunbayeva’s effort to oust Myrzakmatov ended in failure. “The main political winner to emerge from the [June] crisis is without a doubt Melis Myrzakmatov. After the pogroms, senior government officials admitted, he froze the central government out of the southern capital,” the International Crisis Group said in an August 23 report. The ICG document went on to suggest that Osh authorities “were actively, perhaps decisively” involved in the violence, giving them the most to lose from the presence of an outside police force. The ICG and other international observers have said the police mission is essential to restoring a lasting peace in the south.
The mission now appears indefinitely stalled. In late August, Kyrgyz officials reportedly failed to sign a memorandum of understanding with the head of the police mission, Swiss diplomat Markus Mueller. In an August 30 interview with a German daily Tageszeitung, Viola von Cramon, a member of German Parliament, commenting on her recent visit to Bishkek and meetings with Otunbayeva, said the president was supposed to sign the memorandum, but decided not to.
“[Otunbayeva] always supported the OSCE advisory group, but now the situation has changed, and the deployment can cause unrest and nobody wants to be responsible for their [OSCE police advisors] security. Otunbayeva said that she does not want to exacerbate the tense situation in the country,” von Cramon said.
On September 1, a government spokesman confirmed that negotiations on the role of the OSCE police mission were ongoing, adding that, while Otunbayeva is “interested in having OSCE police here doing consultative work and giving technical assistance,” sticking points remain. “Kyrgyzstan should have the unilateral right to cancel the mission of the OSCE police,” spokesman Farid Niyazov told EurasiaNet.org.
According to Niyazov, the OSCE secretariat favored an arrangement that would allow the international advisors to patrol with local police officers. Bishkek, meanwhile, simply wants police trainers, as the OSCE has previously provided. Kyrgyz authorities have proposed a new memorandum of understanding.
“The main change made to the memorandum was the mandate and the functions of the OSCE police. The Kyrgyz Republic suggested the OSCE police have more teaching functions and provide technical assistance to their colleagues here. But initially the OSCE secretariat offered them to patrol together with their local colleagues,” Niyazov added.
As the OSCE mission discussions drag on, ethnic Uzbeks are growing anxious. Neutral observers have documented widespread discrimination against Uzbeks by Kyrgyz security forces in the months following the June violence. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].
“There is a psychological factor regarding the OSCE police officers. There is a belief among Uzbeks that once the OSCE police officers arrive, [Uzbek] suffering and persecution [at the hand of Kyrgyz police officers] will subside, if not end,” said an Osh-based observer on condition of anonymity out of concerns for his safety.
For some Uzbeks, the delay suggests the international community is losing interest in Kyrgyzstan. “The question on the minds of many Uzbeks is who will help us in these difficult circumstances. We have no one to turn to. The answer is that we have to rely on Allah and ourselves,” said Davlatbek, an Osh resident who asked his surname not be printed.