BISHKEK -- A 2013-2019 project by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is helping Kyrgyzstan increase public trust in the police.
In the latest aspect of the project, the UNODC helped fund the construction of a police station in Batken Province. It opened in August.
The main goal of the effort is to prevent extremism and terrorism, Koen Marquering, the international project co-ordinator, told Caravanserai.
"Security issues are very important for our office," Marquering said. "That's why the Interior Ministry [MVD] is one of our main partners ... One issue that worries the public is radicalisation and extremism."
The UN Peacebuilding Fund granted US $1.5m (102.9m KGS) to support the project, Marquering said, adding that it will reach 500,000 Kyrgyz ultimately.
In 4 of the 12 Kyrgyz municipalities where the UNODC operates, preventing extremism and terrorism is a high priority, he said.
The UNODC project has enabled the local population to receive advice on the issue, he added, citing "the village of Uch-Korgon in Batken Province, the towns of Nookat and Kara-Suu in Osh Province, and the city of Suzak in Jalal-Abad Province" as locations with extremism problems.
A southern problem
"The issue of radicalisation is acute in the south, so that is why the police and public work more closely there," Marquering said. "Co-operation among the police, local governments and the general public will be strengthened to identify high-risk individuals."
The internet and skillful recruiters make radicalisation a rapid process, he said.
"Working with youth is highly important," he added about the effort to prevent more Kyrgyz from joining militants in Syria and Iraq. Hundreds of Kyrgyz have journeyed to the Mideast since 2011.
"Local [governments] have a certain vision about how to fight radicalism more actively," he said.
Confidence in the police enables the police to react promptly and to carry out preventive work, local project co-ordinator Jypara Rakisheva told Caravanserai.
"If people trust them [police], then ...the police, together with the public, can solve the problem of extremism in Kyrgyzstan," she said.
New police stations nationwide
The UNODC has funded the opening of police stations in every province, Bishkek-based UNODC employee Madina Sariyeva told Caravanserai. The stations contain modern facilities for neighbourhood police and police specialising in work with juveniles, as well as a separate office for public outreach, she said.
"In some provinces, we plan to build youth centres and playgrounds not far from police stations," she said. "Such measures will enable us to raise the level of public confidence in police."
The UNODC has intensified outreach against extremism in Kara-Suu District, Osh Province, Taalai Torogeldiyev, a retired MVD officer and participant in the project, told Caravanserai.
"We have six groups at the Kara-Suu mayor's office working with the public," he said. "They run a public awareness campaign. They include clerics, neighbourhood committees and influential local citizens."
"They do outreach with the population, talking about the true nature of Islam," Torogeldiyev added. "During Friday prayers ... [clerics] preach against movements that are banned in Kyrgyzstan."
Such groups have been working for eight months in Kara-Suu, he said.
"The work has brought results," he said. "The public perceives the work properly. During outreach meetings, it is clear that ... people understand the threat of extremism."
Public outreach centres created through co-operation of the UNODC and the MVD conduct preventive work with youth, Gulsana Abytova, director of the Bishkek-based NGO Women's Bank of Peace, told Caravanserai.
Lecturers at the centres "talk about the war in Syria and show films", she said. "They say ... that Islam never urges you to wage war."
"We are handing out posters telling people not to go to Syria," she said.
Security for Nookat
The UNODC enabled the installation of video cameras on streets in Nookat, Osh Province, she said.
The cameras provide additional security for a small town "where outsiders [like proselytisers] are immediately noticed", she said.
In Nookat, "roundtables will go on till the end of 2016", she said, adding that speakers would include clerics, officials from the MVD's counter-terrorism-focused 10th Main Administration, Nookat local officials and Nookat outreach centre personnel.