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Cablegate: Turkmenistan: Soldier Arrested with 50 Kilos

VZCZCXRO1645
PP RUEHIK
DE RUEHAH #0019 0061226
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 061226Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4018
INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA PRIORITY 6083
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 3776
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 3635
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RHMCSUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 4325
RUEABND/DEA HQS WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

UNCLAS ASHGABAT 000019

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/CEN, INL/AAE BUHLER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SNAR KCRM PGOV SOCI TX IR
SUBJECT: TURKMENISTAN: SOLDIER ARRESTED WITH 50 KILOS
OF OPIUM

1. (SBU) Sensitive but unclassified. Not for public
Internet.

2. (SBU) SUMMARY: A first sergeant in a military unit
in Serdar district near the Iran border was reportedly
arrested for drug smuggling last week. Immediately
following the incident, the Minister of Defense
gathered all military unit commanders and singled out
the Serdar unit commander with a reprimand. The
involvement of military officers and border guards in
drug trafficking continues to be a problem in
Turkmenistan. END SUMMARY.

3. (SBU) A military officer from unit 20016 (Honor
Guards) of Ashgabat who is the sister-in-law of an
Embassy LES reported that a "starshyna" (rank
equivalent to a first sergeant) from the Serdar
military unit (a district close to the Turkmen -
Iranian border) of Balkan Province was arrested for
smuggling 50 kilograms of opium at the end of
December. The incident was disclosed by the Ministry
of Defense (MOD) during the all Military Unit
Commanders meeting that was held in Ashgabat on
January 2. MOD Major General Berdiyev was said to be
"very angry" at the meeting, reportedly yelling at the
commander of the Serdar Military Unit "How come you
don't know your personnel or what they are doing!"
The commander in question had been appointed only
three days before the incident, which was apparently
why he was not summarily dismissed and instead was given a
written reprimand.

4. (SBU) One Embassy contact, a former State Border
Service captain who recently left his position, said
he doubted that the amount was actually 50 kilos. "50
kilos is a whole lot for a soldier to smuggle alone
across the border. Low-ranking soldiers would not
smuggle such an amount on their own. If he actually
had that amount, he must have done it on the orders of
somebody above him, or he was just a scapegoat," said
the ex-Captain, and added that the soldier must have
been caught not on the border, but at a civilian
location. He added that "usually, Iranians get the
drugs across the border and pass it to soldiers for
resale. Iranians like to do business with military
men," he said, because soldiers are more reliable than
civilians. Civilians might take the drugs and promise
to pay them after the drugs are sold and then run
away. By contrast, soldiers are tied to their units
and unlikely to abscond. They also have the added
advantage of being able to pass easily through
checkpoints, he said.

5. (SBU) COMMENT: The involvement of military and
border officers in the drug trade is reportedly common
in Turkmenistan. Low salaries, delays in the payment
of salaries and poor working conditions at remote
military units can push soldiers to engage in the
illegal drug trade. In addition, connections at the
check points and military identity documents help
them to pass through with minimal scrutiny. END
COMMENT.

CURRAN

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