OSCE Waters Down Police Mission to Kyrgyzstan
After much delay, bad press and political protest, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has decided to water down a planned police advisory mission to Kyrgyzstan, announcing that it will embark instead on a one-year project described as part of “a longer-term approach to police reform.” The OSCE decided to switch to the new project, called the Kyrgyzstan Community Security Initiative, on November 18 in Vienna, citing unspecified “changed circumstances in the country.” Program activities are set to begin in the coming weeks, eventually employing up to 31 international staff and 27 local recruits nationwide. The initial plan – to deploy 52 law-enforcement experts from OSCE member states to southern Kyrgyzstan for four months or more – came in response to June’s deadly ethnic clashes in Osh and Jalalabad provinces, but met with protests from both government officials and the Kyrgyz public. The backlash seems to have eroded the mission’s mandate, despite early statements of support from Kyrgyzstan’s weak central government. At first, OSCE officials said the tasks of the Police Advisory Group, or PAG, would include not just assisting but also “monitoring” and “accompanying” Kyrgyz police in the country’s strife-torn south in order to shore up confidence, “in particular between the police and the population.” “They [the OSCE advisors] are people who will be embedded with the Kyrgyz police to try to assist them and to encourage them to do the right things," the OSCE’s secretary-general told Al Jazeera after the informal July 17 meeting where the decision to deploy was made. Provisional Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva, who had called for international help in quelling the unrest in the south, originally supported the mission, assuring the public that the foreigners would be unarmed and their work would not cost Kyrgyzstan any money. But a number of Kyrgyz officials and prominent political players spoke out against the deployment within days of its announcement. "We do not have additional forces to ensure the security […] of these 52 OSCE police officers in the city of Osh," said presidential advisor Viktor Chernomorets on July 21, adding: "They do not know our laws, language and mentality, and there will hardly be any use for them." Ten days later, the Osh City Council voted against the OSCE mission and Mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov was quoted as saying: “Most people in Osh oppose the OSCE group coming in. [...] It is within our own power to handle the situation.” Myrzakmatov, an appointee of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev who has been called “a ruthless and resolute young nationalist leader,” has managed to buck Bishkek’s authority repeatedly, most notably by disregarding its attempt to dismiss him from office. Moreover, findings by the International Crisis Group suggest that he and his entourage may have a personal stake in keeping a prying outside police force out of the city:
[T]here are strong indications that prominent political figures, particularly in Osh city, were actively, perhaps decisively, involved [in June’s violence]. Most security forces in the region, who in Osh currently answer to local leaders rather than the capital, were slow to act or complicit in the violence.
Prior to the city council vote, on July 26, up to 400 people marched in Osh demanding the government cancel its request for foreign police, while demonstrators outside parliament in Bishkek burned an effigy of an OSCE police officer. As with many demonstrations in Kyrgyzstan, it was unclear whether the protests were genuine grassroots efforts or top-down operations organized by larger political forces. Nonetheless, by early September, with parliamentary elections looming, the OSCE police mission had become a political hot potato. As EurasiaNet.org reported at the time:
In late August, Kyrgyz officials reportedly failed to sign a memorandum of understanding with the head of the police mission, Swiss diplomat Markus Mueller. […] 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. […] According to [Otunbayeva’s then-spokesman Farid] 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.
It seems now that Bishkek has gotten what it wanted.