July 22, 2015 / 8:54 AM / 3 years ago

Defiant Kyrgyzstan says canceled treaty will hit U.S. aid agency

BISHKEK (Reuters) - The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will lose its privileged status in Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday, ratcheting up a row with Washington over an award conferred on a jailed dissident.

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Temir Sariyev on Tuesday ordered his cabinet to renounce a 1993 bilateral agreement with the United States, with effect from Aug. 20.

The agreement is the legal framework facilitating U.S. humanitarian and technical economic assistance to Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry had already protested to Washington over the award of a U.S. State Department human rights prize to Azimjon Askarov, a journalist and activist who is serving a life sentence on charges of inciting ethnic hatred in the Central Asian nation.

The U.S. government said on Wednesday it was disappointed by Kyrgyzstan’s decision to cancel the treaty, but hoped that it could continue delivering aid to the ex-Soviet republic.

The U.S. has provided nearly $2 billion in assistance since the country’s independence in 1991 “to support and strengthen Kyrgyzstan’s democratic transition,” it said.

Much of the assistance has been channeled through USAID, said Kyrgyz Deputy Foreign Minister Emil Kaikiyev.

“Accordingly, the renouncement of this treaty will directly affect USAID and other organizations working on other projects,” he said.

After Aug. 20, USAID will lose tax and customs privileges, while U.S. nationals involved in aid projects will no longer enjoy immunity and status equal to that of diplomats, Kaikiyev said.

“We don’t exclude that after the renouncement of this treaty the American side will wind up or reduce its aid,” he said.

Ignoring calls from human rights bodies to release Askarov, Kyrgyzstan says that conferring the U.S. award on him undermines peace in the ethnically divided country, where more than 400 people were killed in clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in June 2010.

Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek, was convicted of “organizing mass disturbances” and inciting ethnic hatred leading to the killing of a policeman during the clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan.

The diplomatic dispute is taking place as Kyrgyzstan is being drawn deeper into the orbit of Russia.

Kyrgyzstan recently joined the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union, which critics see as Russia’s attempt to restore as much as possible of the former Soviet Union.

Russia has a military air base near the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, and has undertaken several large economic projects with the country. Hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz migrants work in Russia.

Additional reporting by Marlis Myrzakul uulu; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Bolton

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