Russia conquered Uzbekistan in the late 19th century. Stiff resistance to the Red Army after World War I was eventually suppressed and a socialist republic set up in 1925. During the Soviet era, intensive production of "white gold" (cotton) and grain led to overuse of agrochemicals and the depletion of water supplies, which have left the land poisoned and the Aral Sea and certain rivers half dry. Independent since 1991, the country seeks to gradually lessen its dependence on agriculture while developing its mineral and petroleum reserves. Current concerns include insurgency by Islamic militants based in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, a non-convertible currency, and the curtailment of human rights and democratisation.
Update No: 275 - (01/12/03)
The Uzbeks are living in a new world to the 1990s when the Clinton Administration made them an international pariah for their dismal human rights record. The record has not improved - far from it. But the Bush Administration is taking a more relaxed attitude to the problem.
Cooperation with the West against terrorism
For Tashkent is now a major partner in the war against terrorism. Washington and Tashkent have the same enemies in advocates of Islamic fundamentalism. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan operates throughout the region which in Tsarist times was called Turkestan, not just in Uzbekistan. It is on the US list of terrorist organisations.
The Uzbek regime gave the US full support in its war in Afghanistan and let it use a base, Khanabad, on the frontier with that country. Operations are by no means over. Washington has given Tashkent $500 million in aid in return for use of the base. The Tashkent-Washington axis remains firm.
NATO has subsidised many projects over the last decade with Uzbekistan and apportioned 71 grants for research activities. Its secretary-general, Lord Robertson, visited Tashkent on September 25th to cement ties and met President Islam Karimov. Uzbekistan is a Partner For Peace with NATO.
British envoy in a major spat
Another British national has been less emollient of late, at least in public. The UK ambassador to Uzbekistan is a Scot, Craig Murray, who has openly condemned the practices of the regime. He has cited the custom of boiling people alive as one abuse of human rights practised in its jails. He has said that there are 10,000 political dissidents detained in prison and compared the record of the regime to that of Saddam's Iraq, in an overt criticism of US policy in the Central Asian state. He points out that nearly one fifth of the $500 million aid has been for 'law-enforcement and security services,' who are accused of torturing prisoners.
He had the backing of Clare Short, UK Minister for International Development until recently. Her departure from the government made his position more exposed at home.
The Foreign Office called for his resignation on the grounds of his being depressed. In a whispering campaign against him he has been accused of drinking heavily with Uzbeks, womanising at social functions with them and ordering his embassy vehicle down some steps to get to a picnic. The ambassador has denied that any "inappropriate behaviour" took place.
He has had the support of a 15-strong group of British businessmen based in the capital, which has written to UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to praise him. One of them James McCrory, a development consultant, says that Mr Murray has promoted "British culture and ideals to an extent not previously known here.. Mr Murray is being sacrificed to the Americans. The US Embassy makes no effort to conceal its dislike of the way he repeatedly slams (Uzbekistan's) human rights record."
The authorities in Tashkent have let it be known that they have not asked for his recall and it appears that he will not be disciplined after all. He refuses to quit his post and may yet remain as ambassador. The saga is likely to continue to run.
The US also cares
There is something to be said for the good cop, bad cop routine. The US embassy has managed to achieve a breakthrough of its own by exerting a more diplomatic form of influence.
Uzbek Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov said in a recent speech at a seminar on human trafficking that the government has outlined a number of measures to fight trafficking of human beings. Arranged by the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Istiqboli Avlod and the Uzbek Foreign Ministry, the seminar was subsidised by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which also offered a US$700,000 grant to the former soviet republic for information on activities concerning human trafficking. According to Norov, the government considers human trafficking to be just as important as terrorism, drug-trafficking and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). David Appleton the US chargť d'affaires in Uzbekistan told reporters a few weeks before that Washington believes Tashkent has implemented key measures to counter human trafficking.
Uzbekistan to restructure national oil and gas company
The government of Uzbekistan has decided to restructure national oil and gas company, Uzbekneftegaz, to improve its investment appeal and attract a foreign investor through privatisation, a government source told Interfax.
Uzbekistan's privatisation program includes the sale of 49% of Uzbekneftegaz and shares in its subsidiaries to a foreign investor, Interfax News Agency has reported.
Four of the eight Uzbekneftegaz subsidiaries will retain their status: oil products company Uznefteprodukt, gas transport firm Uztransgaz, machine building enterprise Uzneftegazmash, and Uzgeoburneftegazdobycha.
Uzgeoburneftegazdobycha will be formed from Uzburneftegaz, the country's only drilling company, and Uzgeoneftegazdobycha, the company in charge of hydrocarbon exploration and production.
Uzneftepererabotka, which owns all of the oil refineries in Uzbekistan, and Uzneftegazsnabzhenie, a supply and sales company, will be disbanded. The oil refineries will become part of Uznefteprodukt, with the exception of the Shurtan Gas Chemical Complex, which will be transferred to Uzbeneftegaz.
Uzneftegazstroi, a construction company for the oil and gas industry, will become part of Uzbekneftegaz. The restructuring should be completed in 30 days.
France's BNP Paribas helped plan the restructuring process and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development is assisting. Uzbekneftegaz produces 56 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 8 million tonnes of liquid hydrocarbons.
Uzbekistan favours cooperation with Ukraine in restoring Afghanistan
Uzbekistan is interested in Ukraine's joint participation in the restoration of Afghanistan, Uzbek Foreign Minister Sodiq Safoyev has said.
"What we need is taking part in tenders and winning," Sodiq Safoyev told a news conference following a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Kostyantyn Hryshchenko, Interfax-Ukraine News Agency has reported.
"If we stick together, bearing in mind Uzbekistan's experience of work in Afghanistan, its territorial proximity to Afghanistan and its infrastructure, as well as the inexhaustible economic potential of Ukraine in industry and construction, then uniting efforts could bring about an industrialization effect and lead to tangible results," the Uzbek foreign minister said.
Safoyev also said that both countries could participate in the restoration of irrigation facilities, energy and electric energy plants and in laying out motor roads and railway lines.
Talking about prospects for cooperation between the two countries in the trade and economic sphere, Safoyev emphasized that Tashkent was interested in Ukrainian enterprises taking part in the privatisation process in Uzbekistan.
He also voiced his support for developing bilateral cooperation at regional level, noting a stable tendency for progress in mutual relations in this field.
Uzbek, Ukrainian foreign ministers keen on free trade zone
Ukraine and Uzbekistan are ready to lift all trade restrictions and step up cooperation in the trade and economic sphere, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko and his Uzbek counterpart, Sodiq Safoyev, said, answering a question by the Interfax-Ukraine News Agency.
Safoyev said that "experts have been instructed to look into this issue and take a relevant decision before a regular session of the intergovernmental commission which is due to be held at the beginning of next year."
The idea of setting up a free trade zone is viable and achievable. Both Ukraine and Uzbekistan could set an example to encourage all the other countries," the Uzbek foreign minister emphasized.
At the same time, he noted that the restrictions only applied to 2 per cent of total trade turnover between the two countries.
Hryshchenko said that setting up a free trade zone "is a matter of principle" for Ukraine.
Ukraine, in its foreign economic activities, gives priority to achieving a "free trade zone which is free of curbs and restrictions and which really works."
"We have real opportunities to move forward from words to deeds," the Ukrainian foreign minister said.
Kostyantyn Hryshchenko and Sodiq Safoyev signed a cooperation programme for 2004 between the two countries' foreign ministries following the talks between them.
The foreign ministers agreed to conduct regular consultations on topical issues of bilateral relations and international life at the level of foreign ministers and experts.
MINERALS & METALS
Uzbekistan eyes higher uranium mine output by 2010
Uzbekistan recently disclosed that it hopes to increase uranium mine production by 40% to 3,000 tonnes each year from now until 2010. The government believes this is possible thanks in part to the sustained growth in demand on the global market and the cost-effective yet environmentally friendly technology and equipment, Interfax News Agency reported.
The government said this size of production capacity has not been seen since the 1980s. For the last eight years, the Navoi Mining and Metals Combine, the state's uranium monopoly, has moved forward with this effort. It closed a number of its mines that were inefficient, Director General, Nikolai Kuchersky, said at a geology forum in Tashkent recently.
Navoi is now mining uranium by the in situ leach (ISL) method. Apart from being cheaper to use and less damaging to the environment, ISL has enabled Navoi to bring on stream uranium deposits in the Central Kyzyl Kum that could not be developed by conventional methods.
Three ISL operations are being introduced - at the Kendyktyube, Lyavlakan and Tokhumbet deposits - and ISL is being tested at the big Surgaly deposit, Kuchersky was quoted as saying. These moves are increasing Navoi's geological reserves and positioning it nicely to boost mine production considerably and stay abreast of the heightening market demand.
Navoi has become self-sufficient in PVC and polyethelene casing pipes after construction of a factory of its own. And the combine uses highly productive submersible pumps supplied by Denmark's Grundfos to mine more than 90% of its uranium, according to
Uzbekistan ups privatisation revenue 20%
Uzbekistan raised privatisation revenue of 33.81 billion sum in January-September 2003, up 20% year-on- year, the state property committee told Interfax News Agency.
Revenue from the sale of government stakes in 496 companies and 6,425 pieces of real estate totalled 13.91 billion sum and $20.07 million. Uzbekistan sold shares in 37 companies to foreign investors for $18.83 million and 450 million sum with investment obligations of $22.72 million and 1.7 billion sum.
The country privatised 1,029 companies in January-September 2003, down 12.9% year-on-year. The official exchange rate on November 3 stood at 975.48 sum/$1.
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