President Askar Akayev's administration and legislators are at loggerheads over the delimitation of the country's border with China. Many MPs have balked at recognizing a 1999 agreement, saying it grants China an unfair share of territory. A group of deputies have launched an initiative to impeach the president, but some analysts predict that Akayev may end up turning the tables on legislators by dissolving parliament. In the meantime, parliament has adopted a resolution that halts the demarcation process, and obliges the Kyrgyz government to renounce earlier delimitation agreements with China. The dispute introduces an additional element of instability into a region already shaken by Islamic radicalism.

The confrontation developed in late May when legislators discovered that Kyrgyzstan would cede to China about 125,000 hectares of territory in a mountainous northern region of the country, in keeping with delimitation agreements signed in 1996 and in 1999. MPs contend that while the 1996 agreement was ratified by the previous parliament, the 1999 amendment was kept secret by officials, and was never submitted for parliamentary ratification. In addition, Ismail Isakov, chairman of the parliament committee for security, maintains the initial agreement of 1996 was ratified with "many flaws and contradictions to existing Kyrgyz legislation." He added that parliament members voted without looking at maps, and that no record of the vote was kept.

Over the past few weeks, parliament has conducted hearings on the border agreements, hearing testimony from numerous officials. Salamat Alamanov, who headed the government commission on border delimitation, said problems with the present Chinese-Kyrgyz border are connected with old agreements signed by Tsarist Russia and China in the 1860s and 1880s. Those pacts left the frontier ill-defined. He added that little progress was made in delimiting the border during the Soviet era.

Muratbek Imanaliev, the Kyrgyz foreign minister, has fiercely defended the 1996 and 1999 agreements, telling journalists that they best serve the interests of Kyrgyzstan. In defending the presidential position, Imanaliev maintained that Kyrgyzstan got 70 percent of the disputed territory.

"The emotional debates on border issues, which lack a sober attitude and understanding of the national interests of Kyrgyzstan, may have very grave political and economic consequences for the republic," the Interfax news agency quoted the foreign minister as saying. "The absence of a correct juridical registration of the border is always a reason for confrontation and serious conflicts."

Kyrgyz and Chinese experts began the formal border demarcation process on June 5. It was suspended on June 13, after parliament adopted a resolution to halt the process. The government has ignored the parliamentary resolution, calling it illegal, and demarcation work is proceeding. According to Alamanov, officials hope to define about 900 out of 1,100 kilometers of the Kyrgyz-Chinese border. The Kyrgyz government has allotted 6 million soms (about $120,000) for the project.

The dispute has divided parliament. Some MPs favor ordering the prosecutor general's office to investigate officials who prepared the agreements. Deputy Kubatbek Baibolov suggested that Imanaliev ought to be dismissed for deceiving parliament. In a 1998 report to parliament, the minister assured legislators that no Kyrgyz territory would be ceded to China. Those assurances reportedly prompted a parliamentary committee to approve the border pact without ever reviewing the full text of the agreement.

Several attempts to establish a unified parliamentary position on the issue have failed, leaving the border issue in limbo. Pro-government deputies are critical of attempts to slow the demarcation process, saying such delays could worsen relations with China, a key strategic partner for Kyrgyzstan, causing severe damage to national security.

Both pro-government and opposition media outlets have waged increasingly hostile information campaigns to support their own positions, as well as to discredit their opponents. For example, in the pro-government newspaper "Slovo Kyrgyzstana," State Secretary Osmonakun Ibarimov warned that those who oppose the border treaties could face criminal proceedings. "The government

Alisher Khamidov is the director of the Osh Media Resource Center in Osh, Kyrgyzstan.


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