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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

TURKMENISTAN: OSCE mulls over spy allegations

ANKARA, 20 June (IRIN) - The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has yet to respond in full over accusations that a member of its staff was involved in a plot to undermine the Turkmen government. "We don't have any comment to make on the details," Martin Nesirky, a spokesman for the organisation said from Vienna on Tuesday, referring to government accusations made public in a televised broadcast one night earlier in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat.

He noted, however, that Benjamin Moreau, an OSCE staff member working on issues of human rights and civil society, along with Dieter Matthi, another staff member called in for questioning by the Turkmen ministry, were both back at work on Tuesday.

Nesirky's statement comes amid allegations that a French embassy employee and Moreau were involved in a plot aimed at undermining the government of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, otherwise known at Turkmenbasi or father of all Turkmens, who has single handedly ruled the Central Asian state since it gained its independence following the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991.

"A cultural attache to the French embassy, Henri Tomassini, and an employee of the OSCE mission, Benjamin Moreau, are suspected of illegal activities directed against Turkmenistan," National Security Minister Geldymukhammed Ashirmukhammadov, was quoted by AFP as saying.

"All the confirmed facts about the involvement of foreign embassy employees in this matter will be reported to the heads of these missions and entail appropriate measures," Niyazov reportedly said on the incident, adding: "We will allow no one to destroy the country or prevent the Turkmen people from building a peaceful future."

According to the AFP report, Ashirmukhammadov said three Turkmen nationals were also arrested for involvement in the plot, which involved illegally collecting information with the aim of spreading dissatisfaction among country's 5 million inhabitants. Tomassini was accused of "handing over secret video equipment to Turkmen citizen Annakurban Amangylydzhov with the covert aim of videoing a simulated meeting of dissatisfied people, prisons, military buildings and law enforcement officers," Ashirmukhammadov was quoted as saying.

Amangylydzhov, who has worked with "foreign secret services and centres of subversion," was then to hand over the video recordings to a British and French national preparing to visit the Central Asian state as tourists, Ashirmukhammadov claimed. Commenting on the incident, OSCE Ambassador Ibrahim Djikic for the Turkmen centre in Ashgabat remarked: "I understand that Mr Moreau was able to answer all the questions that were put to him. From my own part, I have full confidence in Mr Moreau who has been on the centre's staff for about two years."

But this isn't the first time that the OSCE has faced such troubles in the gas-rich nation. In July 2004, the organisation's ambassador to Turkmenistan, Paraschiva Badescu, was forced to leave the country after Ashgabat refused to extend the Romanian envoy's accreditation for another six months; a move many speculate was in response to the OSCE's critical assessment of the country's human rights record.

Since 1999, the OSCE has assisted in helping to train border and customs officials, as well as help Turkmenistan combat drug trafficking. It also works at helping to protect the environment and develop a market economy and civil society.
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