More than 100 Peace Corps volunteers are leaving Kazakhstan, after the US organization announced an abrupt end to its program.
The Peace Corps said on Nov. 15 it was suspending its operations in Kazakhstan for "a number of operational considerations," without giving further details. It said its 117 volunteers in the country were safe.
Kazakhstan, a country of 16.6 million people four times the size of Texas, is the largest oil producer in Central Asia and its economy has grown to become the largest in the region in the 20 years since independence from the Soviet Union.
More than 1,120 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Kazakhstan since 1993, working with communities in projects focused on teaching English, education, youth development and HIV prevention.
Some officials say Kazakhstan, where per capita GDP exceeds $9,000, has outgrown the need for the Peace Corps, an organization that traces its roots to future President John F. Kennedy's 1960 call for students to work in developing nations.
The Peace Corps itself, citing the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Index, said Kazakhstan was one of the most developed countries to host a program.
Kazakhstan's Ministry of Education and Science said the suspension was "a logical step" given the country's development.
"This organization assists mainly in the least developed countries," it said in a statement. "Many programs of the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan, in general, have come to their conclusion."