Interview With Azattyk Radio and State TVRichard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs
April 11, 2006
QUESTION: Despite the pressure from Uzbekistan the Kyrgyz Government protected and sent to a third country about 400 Uzbeks seeking refuge. But the fate of four of them is still unclear, and they are still being kept in a Kyrgyz prison. What does the U.S. Government think the solution should be? What steps does the Kyrgyz Government have to undertake?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think the first thing to say is that there are over 400 people who found safety and better lives because of the actions the Kyrgyz government took. I think it is very important and somewhat difficult, but those were courageous actions. There are still four people left. We think these people all deserve the same considerations and the same treatment as the others who were able to leave. So we, and the United Nations, continue to advocate for them to be considered as refugees and allow them to go through the normal refugee process.
QUESTION: What are the relations between the U.S. and Uzbekistan after last year’s Andijan events? Are the economic, political, and military programs still going on, or they stopped?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, most of it, frankly, had to stop. The problem is not that we wanted it all to stop. There were many things that we wanted to continue. We want to be able to work with Uzbekistan and the people of Uzbekistan to help them to achieve the same goals as other people in this region have. But the government makes it increasingly hard to work with the organizations there. They close down local organizations. They’ve closed down organizations that work with us. They closed down organizations that work with the United Nations. They closed down the people to whom we offered scholarships and the people who go out and test students to find eligible candidates for our scholarships. Coming after the massacre in Andijan, where such horrible abuses occurred from the government, we find there is very little that we can do. We are not going to support a government that would act that way to its own citizens and we are not going to be able to work with the citizens if the government keeps acting this way. So, it is getting more and more difficult. Let me say one more thing about Uzbekistan. We want to try to have a relationship there and I will be traveling there some time I am sure. Our goal for Uzbekistan is to help them with their independence. Help them to find economic opportunity. Help the people find the voice in their government. Help to find ways of cooperating with everyone in the regions based on law and help them emerge as one of the stable and prosperous countries in a stable and prosperous region. So, we don’t have different ideas about Uzbekistan than we have about any other country in the region. But their government makes it very hard to work on these things.
QUESTION: What is your opinion about how reforms are going on in the post-Soviet countries where revolutions took place: in Ukraine, Georgia, and especially in Kyrgyzstan? Can one hope that the situation is changing for better? How does Washington, D.C. evaluate the work of the new Kyrgyz government?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: That is a very complicated question and it would be complicated even if you asked about France, Britain, Germany and the United States. We are always trying to move forward. We are always in a state of reform. I suppose in some areas some countries are out ahead and in some areas its others. There are a lot of good things here in Kyrgyzstan. However, there is also a lot of work to be done. Constitutional reform has to be finished for the people to decide on their form of government. Whatever the form of government the Parliament has to be strengthened. Judiciary needs independence and a stronger and more confident role. There are economic reforms if you want to attract investment and opportunities. So, I think that anyway you look at it there is a lot to do. Any time you look at us, you will find the same thing in America. Any time you look at France, you will find a lot to do. I think if you really get started on some of these fundamental issues, it will be easier going later.
QUESTION: On April 9 Rysbek Akmatbaev, who is considered as one of the leaders of the criminal world of Kyrgyzstan, was elected as a Member of [Kyrgyz] Parliament. Some opinions call this in question because Akmatbayev has previous convictions, some of them were not removed yet. In her March 24 Op-ed before the election Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch expressed her concern regarding criminals seeking seats in the government. What advice would the U.S. Government give the Kyrgyz Government in this regard?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think there are couple issues here. One, if a criminal can enter Parliament then this is going to raise a lot of concerns about the investment environment and the political environment in Kyrgyzstan. That is bad for the country as a whole. Second, it raises questions about the independence of the judiciary. Every democracy has rules about criminals not being able to compete for office and one wonders why these rules do not get applied here. Third, it raises questions about the fairness of that vote. One has to wonder how a man like that got so many votes. So, this has to be solved by Kyrgyzstan within the Kyrgyz political system. But I think that people understand that there is something fundamentally wrong for a notorious criminal to enter Parliament.
QUESTION: There are opinions expressed that President Bakiyev, who came to power after the March 24th Revolution, doesn’t do constitutional reforms because Akayev-era officials are still working in the government. Is the constitutional reform really needed for Kyrgyzstan? What form of government do you think is right for Kyrgyzstan?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think the Kyrgyz people have to decide what form of government is right for them. It is not simply between a presidential or prime-minister/parliamentary type system. In our presidential system, the President has a lot of power, but the Parliament has control over the money. So, there is a balance together with the judiciary. From that point of view, I think everyone agrees that Kyrgyzstan needs a new constitution. The old constitution had so many changes that all of the power ended up concentrated with the President. So you need to do this: You need to complete this process to rebalance the powers of government and to ensure that each can operate independently but not independent of the others. And that is why we, like many others, would like to see the constitutional reform process completed. We are willing to help, if we can, in that regard.
QUESTION: How are the relations between the Kyrgyz Government and U.S. Government developing since the revolution of last year?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Actually, they have been quite good. We have done very well together. We are cooperating on security issues within the regions, including the airbase out here. We are cooperating on economic opportunities for Kyrgyzstan. We have a lot of assistance to Kyrgyzstan for the development of the economy but are also looking at new ideas and new possibilities of exporting Kyrgyz power to other countries to the south. We are also working on the political process and democratic reforms. Kyrgyzstan has an open media and a strong civil society and has a lot of things going for it. But, there is obviously more to do. So, we have been trying to work with the Kyrgyz government to promote constitutional reforms, reforms in the judiciary, and a serious fight against corruption. I know there is a lot disappointment in those areas. People think that it has not moved as fast as it should have. And we are, frankly, very interested in regaining the momentum on those issues. So, part of my discussions here today is how we move forward in all these areas because we think, frankly, that the political, the economic, and the security issues all reinforce each other for a better future for Kyrgyzstan.
QUESTION: Ex-President Askaer Akayev made the statement that the March Revolution was financed by the U.S. How do you respond to this?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: It is wrong. We do not make revolutions. Our goal is not to overthrow governments or disrupt people’s politics. Our goal is to help people who want reform and change. To help people who want their own voice in politics and to help societies achieve prosperity and democratic stability. The people who made the political changes in this country last March were all the people from this country, with their own ideas from this country, and their own aspirations, and hopes and dreams for this country.
Released on April 13, 2006