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1998 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report

Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
United States Department of State
February 26, 1999


I. Summary

Turkmenistan is not a source country for illegal drugs or precursor chemicals. It has, however, become a popular transit route for traffickers from Pakistan and Afghanistan seeking to move their contraband to Russian and European markets. Turkmenistan has a lengthy, remote border with Afghanistan and Iran. The border guards, customs service and the KNB (the successor to the KGB) share responsibility for stopping the flow of drugs. Despite a lack of the most basic equipment, they have had some interdiction success, seizing considerable quantities of heroin, hashish and acetic anhydride (AA), a popular precursor chemical, in 1998. But Government of Turkmenistan (GOTX) efforts to develop an adequate response to the increase in trafficking throughout the region have been hampered by limited resources and lack of funds. The GOTX is concerned that domestic drug use may be increasing, although statistics are hard to obtain. The economic standing of most Turkmen citizens precludes them from buying drugs, so the addict population remains relatively small. The arrival of casinos and foreign-run luxury hotels raises questions about Turkmenistan's vulnerability to money laundering, but no official cases have been reported. Turkmenistan is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, having acceded to it on February 21, 1996. It is making a good faith effort to meet the Convention's goals.

II. Status of Country

Turkmenistan is an important drug and precursor chemical transit country. Opium moves through its territory to European, Turkish and Russian markets from countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Border tensions between Iran and Afghanistan have created a major obstacle to one path west for drug contraband. Turkmenistan, with its porous Afghan frontier and rugged terrain within its borders (which impairs law enforcement agents in pursuit of traffickers), offers smugglers an attractive option. Direct air routes now link Ashgabat with Abu Dhabi, Birmingham, Dushanbe, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Karachi, London, New Delhi and Tehran. A railway line connecting Turkmenistan and Iran opened in 1996. Truck transport to Europe is increasing. An Embassy officer who traveled to border points in September 1998 indicated that bus and truck traffic from Iran was heavy.

The GOTX is particularly concerned by the increase in precursor chemical contraband crossing Turkmenistan's territory. KNB officials have reported that the volume of AA seized during the first eight months of 1998 was already nearly double the amount seized during all of 1997. Seizure patterns indicate that these chemicals flow from Europe through Turkmenistan to producing countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Turkmen authorities believe the growing amount of drugs being smuggled through the country could fuel domestic drug use. Domestic drug consumption levels, however, remain relatively low. Yet the traditional cultivation and use of opium poppy, and insufficient resources to monitor borders, make Turkmenistan vulnerable to the narcotics industry. Turkmenistan health authorities have indicated that there is a small domestic opium addict population. Opium was traditionally smoked, brewed or processed into a beverage for celebrations, medicine or daily use by Turkmen tribal groups. A study by the United Nations Drug Control Program's Ashgabat office shows that in urban areas over the past generation, there has been a steady increase in users who inject drugs. But in the countryside, injection is minuscule.

Turkmen officials remain concerned that crime groups may be laundering funds through casinos or hotels. One of the largest luxury hotels in Ashgabat is run by the family of a Turk (now deceased) who had a conviction for heroin trafficking in the United States.

The manufacture, possession, sale and use of illicit narcotics are illegal under the new criminal code, which took effect in 1997. The new code allows the death penalty in trafficking cases, although no one has yet been so sentenced.

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 1998

Policy Initiatives. President Niyazov has established a State Drug Control Commission, whose goal is to interdict drug trafficking, dealing and use in Turkmenistan. The Commission, comprised of the heads of the border guards, customs service and KNB, has declared that drug interdiction is a "high priority" mission for each law enforcement branch. There has been no action, however, on a proposal to merge the border guards, customs and certain internal affairs and security sections into a "Ministry of Border Security."

Accomplishments. Despite limited resources--most border crossing points have no computers, and few have handcuffs--Turkmen authorities manage to seize impressive quantities of narcotics. The chief of one border checkpoint has produced a video that shows several drug busts in which hashish and heroin were extracted mainly from tins of fruit being imported from Iran. The searches are conducted without sophisticated electronic equipment. Border officials choose people to examine based on character profiles. According to official information, during the first seven months of 1998, over 15 tons of various types of narcotics were seized, including: 453 kilograms of heroin; 837.2 kilograms of opium; 15 tons and 34 kilograms of hashish and marijuana; and one kilogram of poppy straw. The bulk of these drugs enter Turkmenistan by truck, bus, car and train at land border crossings with Iran and Afghanistan.

Law Enforcement Efforts. Turkmen law now permits capital punishment in drug trafficking cases. An individual arrested with two kilograms or more of heroin is eligible for the death penalty. In addition, the GOTX is set to launch a Drug Intelligence Unit by early 1999. The Unit will be a clearing house for intelligence gathered by law enforcement agencies from Turkmenistan, the signatories of the 1996 regional MOU, the US, Russia and elsewhere. Finally, with UNDCP assistance, Turkmenistan has opened a chemical forensics laboratory in Ashgabat.

Corruption. There is no evidence of systemic narcotics-related public corruption, although official corruption is believed to be widespread in Turkmenistan, and the relatively low salaries of police and other officials likely provide an incentive for abuse in individual cases.

Agreements and Treaties. The GOTX signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 1996 pledging cooperation with its Central Asian neighbors (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) in the fight against drugs. On February 21, 1996, Turkmenistan acceded to the 1988 UN Drug convention, the 1961 UN Single Convention and its 1972 Protocol, and the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances.

Cultivation and Production. In 1998, Turkmenistan launched "Operation Black Poppy," which is aimed at eradicating opium poppies located in Turkmenistan. This is a relatively small-scale program, however, because the country does not have widespread opium cultivation. Cultivation of opium is illegal in Turkmenistan. It does occur, however, in remote mountain and desert areas.

Drug flow/Transit. Turkmenistan is an increasingly popular transit route for drug traffickers. The majority of the contraband enters Turkmenistan via its land borders with Iran and Afghanistan. Well-armed Afghan traffickers use advanced communication systems to evade Turkmen border forces, who sometimes lack radios. The traffickers mainly use trucks, four- wheel-drive vehicles and motorcycles to transport the drugs, although a significant cache was discovered in the lining of the seats on a bus from Iran. GOTX and USG law enforcement officials agree that Turkmenistan's popularity as a transit country will increase as time passes.

Domestic Programs. In a 1998 reorganization of the Health Ministry, treatment clinics for drug addicts were put under the auspices of psychiatric hospitals, the UNDCP reported. It is unclear at this point what effect this change has had. Official figures put the local addict population at approximately 5,000, but the head of the local UNDCP office believes the number is much higher. No sophisticated anti-drug campaign or educational program currently exists. In the past, prevention campaigns have been fettered by concern among some GOTX officials that such programs would create increased interest in drug use. Government-owned newspapers frequently run articles about the harmful health and social effects of narcotics use.

IV. U.S. Policy Initiatives and Programs

Bilateral Cooperation. The USG encourages Turkmenistan to modernize its legal framework for combating drug smuggling, and offers a range of counternarcotics training opportunities for GOTX law enforcement and counternarcotics officials.

The GOTX participated in several such USG sponsored training programs in 1998, including: a two-week DEA regional training school in Ashgabat, and a two-week basic Regional Drug Enforcement Course at ILEA in Budapest. On the horizon for 1999 are a U.S. Coast Guard-sponsored Joint Boarding Officer Course and a regional U.S. Customs course on Border Operations to be held in Ashgabat.

The Road Ahead. Over the next year, the USG plans to support Turkmenistan's fight against drugs through law enforcement and judicial institution building. This will be accomplished by continuing to offer training courses and by encouraging the GOTX to expand its drug control activities and improve its legislative institutions. In addition, the USG will promote supply reduction through interdiction, cross border cooperation, and improved control measures. Finally, the USG will continue to foster regional cooperation in combating drugs.

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