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U.S. Department of State
1997 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, March 1998

United States Department of State

Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

Europe and Central Asia


I. Summary

Turkmenistan continues to be used by drug traffickers as a conduit to smuggle illicit drugs to the West, and precursor and essential chemicals to producers in southwest Asia. Traffickers are making additional efforts to open new markets and cultivate opium. Currently, the greatest challenge to the Government of Turkmenistan (GOT) is from international drug smugglers seeking to move opium and/or heroin from Afghanistan to Western markets and precursor chemicals to the East. The continuation of the conflict in Afghanistan has exacerbated these problems. Turkmen officials are also concerned that domestic drug cultivation and use appear to be on the rise, although statistics on both are hard to obtain. The growing number of casinos and foreign-run luxury hotels raises questions about Turkmenistan's vulnerability to money laundering activities associated with the narcotics trade, although no official cases have been reported. The GOT continues to increase the attention it pays to drug control, but efforts to develop a response to the increased trafficking through the region have been hampered by a lack of resources and funds. The GOT is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, having acceded to it on June 18, 1996. It is making a good faith effort to meet its goals.

II. Status of Country

Although health authorities indicate that domestic narcotics consumption is not a major problem at the present time, traditional cultivation and use of opium poppy, and lack of sufficient resources to monitor the borders, make Turkmentstan increasingly vulnerable to the narcotics industry. Turkmenistan health authorities have indicated that there is a small domestic opium addict population. Information gathered during embassy officials' travel to the border area with Afghanistan corroborates this. Opium was traditionailly smoked, brewed or processed into a beverage for celebrations, medicine, or daily use by Turkmen tribal groups. Health officials do not have any statistics on use. They believe that many opium users in urban areas now inject opiates. Intravenous opium use in rural areas, once practically non-existent, is also increasing. Marijuana and hashish use is increasing, though remains at relatively low levels.

Seizure patterns indicate that opium from Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Iran transits Turkmenistan enroute to markets in Russia, Turkey and Western Europe. Direct air routes now link Ashgabat with Tehran, Istanbul, Karachi, Dushanbe, Tashkent, Moscow, London, Birmingham, Abu Dhabi, New Delhi, and Frankfurt. A railway line connecting Turkmenistan to Iran was officially opened in 1996, and currently is open for cargo traffic. Truck transport to Europe is steadily increasing. Truck traffic from Iran remained heavy in 1997.

During 1997, GOT officials remained very concerned about the transit through Turkmenistan of licit chemicals for the production of illicit drugs such as heroin, although no major seizures of the chemicals were reported.

Narcotics sales and distribution are controlled by local traffickers; according to Turkmen authorities, opium is bartered by these local traffickers for scarce commodities. Authorities believe that the higher incidence of drugs being smuggled into the country from Iran and Afghanistan could also fuel increased domestic drug use. Local production of opium, likely on small plots, may also be a factor, according to health officials. Officials are also concerned about an increase in domestic drug use resulting from the on-going war in Afghanistan, whose disruptions and displacement of people could facilitate the importation into Turkmenistan of greater quantities of illegal narcotics.

Turkmen authorities remain concerned that crime groups may be laundering funds through casinos and hotels. For example, the two largest luxury hotels in Ashgabat are managed 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 criminal code, which also includes a provision for confiscating illegally acquired property. No formal asset forfeiture code exists.

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 1997

Policy Initiatives. As in 1996, GOT progress in developing a counternarcotics campaign in 1997 was hampered by a lack of funds, personnel, equipment and training in all of the governmental components responsible for the combating of illegal narcotics. There has been no movement on a previous GOT plan to formulate a national drug policy and develop a government coordinating committee on drug issues. In addition, no action has been taken on a proposal to merge the border guards, customs and certain internal affairs and security functions into a "Ministry of Border Security."

Law Enforcement Efforts. The GOT's existing counternarcotics programs focus on enforcement and interdiction, with limited educational demand reduction initiatives through the schools, and local level drug treatment centers.

Accomplishments. Despite limited enforcement resources, the GOT continues to seize impressive quantities of Afghan opium and Pakistani hashish bound for Russia, Turkey and Western Europe in cars, trucks, and train cars. For example, in October 1997, the GOT seized 78.5 kilograms of various narcotics, including 9 kilograms of heroin, 32.5 kilograms of opium, and 37 kilograms of marijuana. Concern about drug trafficking across the Afghan border has led to an increased deployment of border troops in the region of Kushka.

Corruption. President Niyazov severely criticized law enforcement bodies, during April 2 and 3, 1997, meetings with Mejlis (parliament) deputies, employees of the General Procuracy, and high officials in the miiitary and security organs. He singled out collusion in drug smuggling as one of their main failings. Also, he charged that this is going on "in practically every (law enforcement and military) organ." As a result, a number of high ranking law enforcement officials were fired, including the Procurator General.

Agreements and Treaties. On June 18, 1996, the Mejlis approved Turkmenistan's accession to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, the 1961 UN Single Convention and its 1972 Protocol, and the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances. There are no counternarcotics bilateral agreements between Turkmenistan and other nations, although the GOT has cooperative agreements with Russia, Uzbekistan, and Iran on general border security matters.

Turkmenistan does not have an Extradition Treaty with the US. However, counternarcotics officers indicate that drug offenders have been extradited to Afghanistan, but not to the US, and that agreements are in place with other parts of the CIS to extradite drug offenders.

Cultivation and Production. Cultivation of opium is illegal in Turkmenistan. Illegal cultivation, however, does occur, particularly in remote mountain and desert areas. Although no statistics on the extent of such cultivation are available, authorities report that most opium is cultivated along the Iranian border in the Ahal Velayat (region), which includes Ashgabat, and in the eastern parts of Lebap and Mary Velayats. Opium poppies cultivated in Turkmenistan are grown almost exclusively on very small plots of land which are rarely larger than a few hundred square feet. Most production is intended for the personal use of the grower and his or her family. There is also some processing of opium resin and poppy straw extract for domestic consumption. Cannabis is also present in Turkmenistan.

Demand Reduction. A limited drug and alcoholism treatment program, including an addiction reference center, continues to operate under the Ministry of Health. The addiction center is continuing its efforts to create a counternarcotics educational curriculum and conduct research on the causes of drug abuse. However, its efforts are hampered by concern among some GOT officials that prevention programs will create increased interest in drug use. Each region also has in-patient and out-patient narcotics treatment clinics, which are described as adequate for current needs. The Ministry of Interior (MVD) has a program that allows convicted drug users to be paroled with the stipulation that they remain under MVD supervision for one year. In addition, in 1997, several thousand people, many of them arrested for narcotics-related crimes, were released from prison under a Presidential Amnesty Act.

IV. US Policy Initiatives and Programs

Bilateral Cooperation. In 1997, the USG continued to encourage Turkmenistan to modernize its legal framework for combating drug smuggling.

The GOT participated in several USG/INL funded training programs with a counternarcotics focus. Turkmen law enforcement representatives participated in a post-blast investigation course organized by the Department of Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; an in-country US Customs overseas enforcement training program; attended the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Conference in Orlando, Florida; a regional FBI seminar in Tashkent; and training on counterfeit documents provided by the Consular Affairs Fraud Prevention Programs Office of the State Department. Moreover, the USG continues to pursue an agreement, developed in coordination with the UNDCP, to provide a total of $81,000 of forensic equipment and drug search and test kits.

The Road Ahead. Over the next year, the USG will work to implement the delivery to the Turkmen of the equipment described above. In addition, the USG will continue to encourage Turkmenistan to expand its drug control activities and establish the necessary legislative institutions. The USG will continue to offer law enforcement training opportunities, and will work to foster increased cooperation among Turkmenistan, the NIS and Russia in their counternarcotics efforts. Finally, the USG will continue to assist Turkmenistan's border interdiction efforts.


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