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Uzbekistan Weekly Roundup

Uzbekistan wound up 2010 still quarrelling with its neighbors over water, energy, and security issues. Tashkent cut off gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan, which is still struggling to recover from political and ethnic unrest, and provided only 72,000 cubic meters per day instead of the usual 90,000 cubic meters, Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe (RFE/RL) reported. The reason is that Kyrgyzstan hasn't paid its bills. At year’s end, Kyrgyz officials planned to meet with their Uzbek counterparts to try to persuade them to reduce their price from $250 to $140 per 1,000 cubic meters, much lower than the market price in the region, and considerably lower than in Europe.

Tajikistan has been trying to address its critical power shortage with plans for hydropower stations that have drawn Uzbekistan's ire over the possible reduction in water supply for its irrigation-intensive cotton industry. Tajikistan turned to neighboring Iran for help in construction of the Sangtuda-2 hydropower plant, and Iran flew 75 tons of mainly electronic equipment to be used in the project on December 29, RFE/RL reported. The more expensive method of air freight was used because efforts to ship via rail have been obstructed by Uzbekistan throughout the year. Tajikistan says this year 2,000 rail cars with construction materials bound for their country were unable to pass through Uzbekistan; of these, 20 were sent by Iran for Sangtuda-2.

Tajikistan continues to detain suspects they say are members of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), RFE/RL reported December 22. Dushanbe says the IMU members were trained as terrorists in camps abroad and are now infiltrating the region. Authorities in Sughd Province of Tajikistan say IMU activity has increased; 21 of 33 suspected IMU detained in Sughd are residents of Istaravshan. Five suspects were killed in the Isfara district of Sughd late last year.

In making its case to Uzbekistan to help with the Afghanistan war effort, the U.S. has stressed the importance of cracking down on terrorists. If Tashkent has an avowed goal of ending terrorist attacks and suppressing groups like the IMU, so goes this thinking, then it will want to help NATO fight the Taliban and its allies. Tashkent has not exactly favored this line itself, having stressed non-military solutions to the Taliban problem and preferring its own police operations to cooperative efforts with any regional structures, whether run by China or Russia or the U.S.. Yet Tashkent also successfully plays these global leaders off against each other, and finds its own reasons to participate in the Northern Distribution Network, the route to ferry non-military goods to NATO troops in Afghanistan. Uzbekistan is interested in trade in the region, whether related to peace or war. Tashkent is building a railroad to Mazar--e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan expected to be completed in 2011, which will open up Afghanistan's interior to rail traffic for the first time (after a number of failed past projects). The Pentagon is hoping to persuade Tashkent to send lethal equipment as well as non-lethal supplies, says EurasiaNet's The Bug Pit.

President Islam Karimov travelled to Samarkand for a special session of the regional legislature December 17. The chief purpose of the trip appeared to be the dismissal of Uktam Barnoyev, governor of Samarkand Region, who was said to be "notorious for his management style," the independent web site uznews.net reported. Corruption and complaints of abusiveness were rampant, says uznews.net, to the point where the president had to act. The story with corruption in Uzbekistan usually involves not a principled fight or better laws or tougher prosecution, but selective executive actions that seem to send the message that any abusive figure has to be sure to cooperate with the leaders above all, or he can be sacrificed.

Among the troubles bothering local residents of Samarkand is an urban renewal program that seems to be causing needless economic dislocation and the destruction of old neighborhoods, EurasiaNet reports. The ancient city's heritage appears to be endangered by various construction projects that have had no democratic oversight and little discussion in the state-controlled press. While earlier projects focused on renovating treasured cultural sites that bring numerous tourists to the city, the current initiative involves clearing space for three new avenues, a government hall and a large park. According to uznews.net, approximately 100 private residences and 30 businesses were demolished despite protests, and people were given only three days to vacate their properties, with failure to deliver on promised compensation. Lack of transparency on building contracts that appear to have drained state coffers has fueled the public perception of mismanagement. Some people have tried to launch lawsuits but the city court ruled in favor of the government in nearly all cases; others displaced from their homes decided to remain silent for fear of retribution.

The School of Oriental and African Studies Centre for Contemporary Central Asia and the Caucasus (SOAS) at the University of London has published a report on the use of forced child labor in Uzbekistan's cotton industry. The academic study, titled What Has Changed? Progress in Eliminating the Use of Forced Child Labour in the Cotton Harvests of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, is based on 97 interviews in Uzbekistan regarding the 2009 harvest, and indicates that despite government commitments to end the practice of exploiting child labor, children are still commanded to work in the fields by government and school authorities. The report outlines the institutionalized nature of forced child labor and analyzes the motivations that keep it in place, thereby establishing the Uzbek government's accountability for ongoing violations of the conventions of the International Labour Organization which it signed in 2009. The SOAS report found that "the data clearly demonstrates that child participation in the cotton harvest is extremely widespread and that there has been no fundamental change from earlier years.”

Reports compiled throughout the 2010 harvest season by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights and other NGOs provide ample illustration that the practice of forced child labor continued in the past year. The SOAS survey results account for why the practice is not abating, due to the state-imposed quota system: "there is a systematic mobilization of children by the central state that utilizes the school system and leaves almost no room for choices at the level of children and parents and remarkably little agency on the part of the school authorities and even farmers.”

The cotton industry is critical to Uzbekistan and pressure from international institutions has not caused Tashkent to significantly change its policies, says SOAS. A variety of factors keep Uzbekistan from changing its policies, chief of which is the failure to make real agricultural reforms and privatize farming. While private farms have been created, they are dependent on the state for supplies and function within a command system of quotas. The agriculture sector is not mechanized, and many adult laborers still migrate abroad in search of better wages. This provides incentive for the use of forced child labor.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick compiles the Uzbekistan weekly roundup for EurasiaNet. She is also editor of EurasiaNet's Choihona blog. To subscribe to Uzbekistan News Briefs, a weekly digest of international and regional press, write uzbekistan@sorosny.org

Uzbekistan Weekly Roundup

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