Central Asia Theater
In a move initiated by the Obama administration, the US Senate Appropriations Committee voted this month to waive Bush-era human rights restrictions on military aid to the Islam Karimov dictatorship in Uzbekistan. The lifting of the restrictions, now part of the Foreign Operations bill, is before the full Senate and appears to have bipartisan support. (Eurasia Review, Nov. 12)
Kyrgyzstan's newly elected president, Almazbek Atambayev, announced upon his victory Oct. 31 that he will close Manas air base, which has been critical to the US campaign in Afghanistan. Atambayev said the lease for the US lease will not be renewed after it expires in 2014. He told the BBC: "The US base should be shut down. What if there is a war between the US and Iran, and in response Iran bombs the Manas? What will happen to us?" Atambayev served as prime minister under interim leader Roza Otunbayeva following last year's revolution, and has steered a course closer to Russia, which also has military forces in Kyrgyzstan.
In two separate trials, courts in Xinjiang province sentenced to death four members of China's Uighur minority in connection with violent incidents in Hotan and Kashgar in July that left around 40 dead. Two others were ordered imprisoned for 19 years, with a five year suspension of their political rights. The Chinese-language Xinjiang Legal Daily said in a report on the Tianshan.net news portal that the defendants were convicted of "forming and participating in a terrorist organization, the illegal manufacture of explosives, premeditated homicide, arson, and several other related crimes." (Hurriyet Daily News, Turkey, RTTNews, WUC, Sept. 15)
The indigenous Telengit people in Russia's Altai Republic (see map) are turning to the international community to help stop a new gas pipeline to China that would cut through their sacred lands and a UN-recognized World Heritage Site. When first announced in 2006 by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the 2,700-kilometer Altai Pipeline was slated to be complete by the end of 2011, but construction is only about to begin now due to cost disputes. Cultural Survival warns that the pipeline would bisect the Ukok Plateau, sacred to the Telengit, and the Golden Mountains of Altai, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as Kanas National Park in China's Xinjiang province, one of that country's last undeveloped wilderness areas.
Authorities in China's Sichuan province have charged three Tibetan monks with murder over the death of a fellow monk who set himself on fire in an apparent protest action. Two of the monks, Tsering Tenzin and Tenchum, are accused of plotting, instigating and assisting in the self-immolation of 16-year-old Rigzin Phuntsog on March 16. A third, Drongdru, is accused of moving and hiding the injured monk and preventing him from receiving emergency treatment for 11 hours, the official news agency Xinhua said. The trial will be held this week at the Maerkang County people's court. The Ngaba Kirti monastery, where the self-immolation occurred, has been under tight control by security forces ever since. In June, Beijing rejected pressure from the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) to provide information about more than 300 of Kirti's monks whose whereabouts remain unknown since a raid on the monastery in April. (AP, VOA, Aug. 26; Tibet Society, June 15)
Violence over the past two days left at least 20 dead in Kashgar, the far western city of China's Xinjiang region, with authorities calling one of the incidents a "premeditated terrorist attack" led by militants trained in Pakistan. Authorities say a "group of terrorists" entered a Kashgar restaurant, knifing the owner, workers and patrons to death before setting fire to the building. Two of those involved were apparently chased down and shot by police in an agricultural area on the outskirts of the city. China's official news agency Xinhua said an "initial police probe" showed that the leaders of the "religious extremists" involved in the attack were trained in bomb-making and firearms at Pakistan camps of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
Barack Obama's White House meeting with the Dalai Lama sparked the requisite protests from Beijing, in what has become a completely choreographed political spectacle. Press accounts (AHN, PTI, July 18) inform us that "Obama stressed that Washington recognizes that Tibet is a part of China" even as he "stressed the importance of protecting human rights of Tibetans in China." Not appeased, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Obama’s meeting with "the Dalai has grossly interfered in China's internal affairs, hurt the feelings of Chinese people and damaged the Sino-American relations," expressing "stern objection" and adding: "We demand the US side seriously consider China's stance, immediately adopt measures to wipe out the baneful impact, stop interfering in China's internal affairs and cease to connive and support anti-China separatist forces that seek Tibet independence." The Dalai Lama also met with US congressional leaders, including the reactionary House Speaker John Boehner.
Some 40 exiled Tibetans have been arrested in Nepal over the past week, in a crackdown against refugees attempting to celebrate the Buddhist religious festival of Saka Dawa in the capital Kathmandu. Hundreds of Tibetan refugees gathered to celebrate Saka Dawa; the birthday of Buddha, in the capital Kathmandu. The festivities, which were repeatedly shut down by the police, included candle-light vigils for Tibetans recently detained in a new wave of protests within the People's Republic of China.