The Fort Worth Press - Kyrgyzstan detains border deal critics over 'coup' plans

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Kyrgyzstan detains border deal critics over 'coup' plans
Kyrgyzstan detains border deal critics over 'coup' plans / Photo: © AFP

Kyrgyzstan detains border deal critics over 'coup' plans

Authorities in Kyrgyzstan have detained more than 20 politicians and civil servants accused of organising riots over a border demarcation deal with the neighbouring Central Asian country Uzbekistan, a rights group said Monday.

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The Kylym Chamy rights group said that 22 people had been detained across the politically volatile ex-Soviet country and were accused of planning a coup attempt and violent protests.

The people detained are part of a group that is critical of a draft government deal with Uzbekistan that critics say could see Bishkek hand over control of a key dam to Uzbekistan.

Water is an increasingly scarce resource in Central Asia and the Kempir-Abad dam was constructed when both countries were part of the Soviet Union.

Disputes over borders and resources still routinely flare three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union and violence regularly erupts on Kyrgyzstan's border with neighbouring Tajikistan.

The Kylym Chamy rights group said that the people detained across several towns and cities include a military general, a former member of the constitutional court, a former public prosecutor, journalists and activists.

According to the group, the arrested individuals could face from five to 50 years in prison.

Protests broke out earlier Monday in the capital of Bishkek, where some 300 people marched chanting "The reservoir is ours" and "Freedom for the opposition", according to an AFP journalist on the scene.

Meanwhile, a counter rally was held in the town of Jalalabad near the reservoir.

The interior ministry confirmed to AFP that the former speaker of the parliament was detained and would be held for one month "in a temporary detention centre".

Some of those detained shared video footage as police carried them away.

The detained people belong to a group seeking the "protection" of Kempir-Abad, a water reservoir on the border with Uzbekistan.

The group was created after Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan signed an agreement for delimitation and demarcation of their borders in September.

The agreement will see Kyrgyzstan expand by 150 square kilometres but leaves the Kempir-Abad water reservoir under the control of Uzbekistan, the head of the National Security Committee, Kamtchybek Tachiev, has said.

Uzbekistan would gain control of the dam but, according to President Sadyr Japarov, Kyrgyzstan would still have equal access to its water resources.

"We are recovering the dam," Japarov was quoted as saying by the state-run Kabar news agency on Saturday, specifying that it would now be possible to "pump water for the inhabitants of neighbouring villages".

He said that the land to be handed over to Uzbekistan under the deal was given to Kyrgyzstan when the dam was built during the Soviet period.

Attempts to oppose the agreement were "sabotage" and "provocations," he added.

Kyrgyzstan, a landlocked republic of 6.5 million people, has been dogged by political volatility for much of the three decades since it became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.

S.Rocha--TFWP