Avet Demurian, Associated Press Writer
YEREVAN, (AP) - An official in Armenia's security service said Wednesday that the Turkmen ambassador here has been missing for days in what was apparently the latest in a series of high-ranking diplomatic defections from tightly controlled Turkmenistan.
Toyli Kurbanov had disappeared three or four days ago along with his family and was no longer in Armenia, an Armenian security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The security service refused to comment. The Turkmen Embassy in Yerevan said it had received an order from Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on Tuesday saying that Kurbanov was no longer ambassador. The embassy said it did not know Kurbanov's whereabouts and declined to
A high-level Armenian diplomat said on condition of anonymity that Kurbanov was in the United States.
Kurbanov's apparent defection comes two months after Turkmenistan's ambassador to Britain, Chary Babayev, requested asylum there. Two former Turkmen foreign ministers and an ambassador to Turkey have also defected in the past few years. Turkmen opposition Web site Gundogar said Tuesday that Kurbanov had refused to go to Turkmenistan when recently
summoned by the Foreign Ministry. In the Turkmen capital Ashgabat, Foreign Ministry
officials denied Wednesday any knowledge of Kurbanov's reported disappearance.
After Babayev's disappearance, Niyazov introduced a new position in the country's diplomatic missions responsible for surveillance over all staff and ordered that families of all diplomatic workers posted abroad remain in Turkmenistan.
Niyazov has led Turkmenistan since 1985, when it was part of the Soviet Union, resisting moves toward democracy and economic reforms and cracking down on dissent. He has stepped up his crackdown following an alleged attempt on his life in November when his motorcade came under fire. Niyazov was unhurt.