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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
06ASHGABAT819
2006-08-02 11:54:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Ashgabat
Cable title:  

ICRC REPRESENTATIVES VISIT ASHGABAT TO DISCUSS

Tags:   AF  EAIR  IO  MARR  PHUM  PREL  TX 
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VZCZCXRO8126
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHLA RUEHMRE RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHAH #0819/01 2141154
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 021154Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7636
INFO RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL PRIORITY 0405
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC//DHO-2/REA/NMJIC-J2// PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC//J5/RUE// PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/USCENTCOM SPECIAL HANDLING MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUCNOSC/OSCE POST COLLECTIVE
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ASHGABAT 000819 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

KABUL ALSO FOR DAO OFFICE, STATE FOR SCA/CEN (PERRY)

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/02/2016
TAGS: AF EAIR IO MARR PHUM PREL TX
SUBJECT: ICRC REPRESENTATIVES VISIT ASHGABAT TO DISCUSS
PRISON ACCESS AND HELICOPTER CRASH

REF: A. ASHGABAT 773


B. ASHGABAT 793

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Jennifer L. Brush for reasons 1.4(B) a
nd (D).

Summary
-------



1. (C) During a July 31 meeting, the new Head and Deputy
Head of the International Committee of the Red Cross's
(ICRC's) Regional Delegation of Central Asia told the Charge
that their organization is changing its strategy on seeking
access to prisoners. Instead of holding fast to the ICRC's
previous insistence on meeting with those associated with the
2002 assassination attempt on President Niyazov, the new team
will agree to a staged approach, de-emphasizing the political
aspect and starting first with visits to common criminals.
Their hope: that this will give them a foot in the door that
will allow the ICRC to begin improving prison conditions now.
The two representatives also indicated that the ICRC has
faced strong pressure from the Government of Turkmenistan to
pay compensation to the families of the Turkmenistan Air
helicopter crew that was killed in a crash in Afghanistan,
even though the flight was fully indemnified. They suggested
that Turkmenistan officials may be seeking to create a U.S.
role in the downing in order to find an alternate source of
compensation, most of which would probably, in any case,
never find its way to the crew's families. End Summary.

Prison Access: Working on a Go-Slow Approach


--------------------------





2. (U) Charge met on July 31 with two new ICRC
representatives, Boris Michel and Raffaello Mueller, to
discuss the status of ICRC efforts to gain access to
prisoners in Turkmenistan. (Note: Michel is Head and
Mueller is Deputy Head of the Regional Delegation of Central
Asia, based in Tashkent. End note.)



3. (C) According to Michel, the ICRC has seen that previous
efforts to "work the hardest issues first," including gaining
prison access to prisoners convicted of complicity in the
2002 assassination attempt on President Niyazov, have been
largely unsuccessful. ICRC also wants to forestall any
efforts by the government to give the prison visit portfolio
to other, less experienced and/or less objective "observers,"
such as the OSCE or members of the Ashgabat diplomatic corps.
As a result, his organization is retooling its strategy in
Turkmenistan.



4. (C) Specifically, the ICRC has decided to shift its
immediate emphasis to gaining access to the thousands of
common prisoners, who are also living in very harsh
conditions. According to Michel, gaining access so that ICRC
can learn more about prison conditions and begin to fight
larger-scale problems, such as the spread of tuberculosis
among prison inmates, is a more immediate priority. Michel
indicated that his organization would be willing to agree to
a stipulation that ICRC representatives would be accompanied

by a government representative, since "government
representatives can be asked to step out of the room." The
ICRC will then use those visits to write a report and
recommendations for improving the prison situation. If the
program is going well and the Government of Turkmenistan
shows signs of beginning to implement ICRC recommendations,
the ICRC will pursue an agreement. Although the ICRC hopes
eventually to be given access to those convicted of terrorism
and to former officials accused of embezzlement, it
recognizes that such visits are probably politically
impossible in the short term.

ICRC Asks U.S. to Play Down its Advocacy Efforts


--------------------------

---



5. (C) Charge noted that the embassy is expecting several
high-level USG visits in the coming weeks, and offered to
support ICRC negotiations in whatever way would be most
helpful. Michel said ICRC was changing this strategy too and
instead of a multilateral approach, which had not worked so
far in Turkmenistan, ICRC preferred now to "try an
independent approach."

ASHGABAT 00000819 002 OF 002



ICRC Concerned About Helicopter Crew Families


--------------------------





6. (C) Michel then said that, although this was his first
visit to Ashgabat to discuss prison access, Mueller had been
to Ashgabat four times in connection with the Turkmenistan
Air helicopter that crashed in February in Afghanistan while
returning from an ICRC humanitarian relief mission to
Pakistan (ref A). Charge noted that the Civil Aviation
Service in Turkmenistan had recently sent a letter to
Secretary Rice (ref B) demanding a full accounting of what

SIPDIS
had happened to the helicopter; even though the United States
has passed to the government what it knows about the
accident, the government appeared unwilling to accept that
information as conclusive.



7. (C) Mueller noted that ICRC had been having similar
difficulties with the government, and said that ICRC had
information indicating the helicopter was "far off its route"
when it crashed. (Note: Mueller subsequently indicated that
the helicopter was almost five miles from the route it had
filed, and suggested the pilot may have been trying a
shortcut. End note.) The Government of Turkmenistan has
been trying to claim that it is the ICRC's responsibility to
pay compensation, even though the ICRC had paid an indemnity
when it hired the helicopter, and had been told that the
aircraft was fully insured by the Government of Turkmenistan.
The ICRC had worked with the team that the government had
sent to Kabul to investigate the crash, and had found the
team members baffled by their mission. "The U.S. rescue team
even had to provide them appropriate clothing," he said.
Essentially, according to Mueller, the Turkmenistani Embassy
in Kabul was "useless" and did nothing to help with
facilitating the recovery operation. Even now, he continued,
although there are "mechanisms" that the government could use
to make further inquiries, "only the president can make any
decisions and everyone else is too scared to suggest further
measures to him." In the end, he concluded, civil air
officials were desperate to lay the blame for the crash on a
non-Turkmen entity, preferably the ICRC and/or the U.S.
military, and force that entity to pay for the damage. The
alternative, finding fault with the way the Government of
Turkmenistan had handled the crash, would result in "heads
rolling."



8. (C) According to the two ICRC reps, their organization is
now most concerned about compensation for the families, who
still have not received any money. ICRC had no legal
responsibility to pay anything other than back salaries and
per diem, which it was prepared to pay to the family members
directly. The government had yet to respond to ICRC's
repeated requests for information on how the families would
be compensated in the long-term for the deaths of their
breadwinners, who died while serving the Government of
Turkmenistan. He requested that U.S. officials visiting
Ashgabat -- particularly when meeting with Civil Aviation
Service officials -- ask after the welfare of the crew's
families.

Comment


--------------------------





9. (C) The ICRC has been largely at a stalemate with the
Government of Turkmenistan on prison access. Michel and
Mueller (who previously was involved in ICRC activities in
Chechnya) seem to hope that their new go-slow strategy -- and
a new team -- would allow them to finally make headway on
gaining access to Turkmenistan's prisons. They also plan to
de-emphasize prison access as ICRC's main activity in
Turkmenistan and concentrate more on ICRC's educational
activities, including promoting international humanitarian
law through activities with Turkmenistan's armed forces,
police and security forces. Charge said embassy would
support ICRC's new strategy and we stood ready to assist.
BRUSH