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News Wrap - 26.04

A two-day-meeting between the Presidents of the five states surrounding the resource-rich Caspian Sea held in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat this week and designed to try and thrash out a deal over mineral proprietary rights to what is estimated to be the world’s third largest oil and gas reserves, ended in failure on Wednesday. The leaders of Turkmenistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Azerbaijan were trying to draw up a new agreement to succeed the previous deal between the Soviet Union and Iran drawn up in 1970.

Following the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the creation of three new Caspian border states, the status of the sea’s ownership has remained in limbo. Not only are the sea’s enormous mineral resources at stake but the Caspian states were also hoping to reach an agreement on fishing quotas as well as agreement on enforcing quotas for sturgeon fish catches whose caviar eggs are one of the worlds most expensive delicacies. The sea accounts for about 90 percent of the world’s caviar production but stocks have plummeted as a result of poaching. According to a recent CITES report (the international body which governs trade in endangered species) the annual illegal sturgeon catches now pull in twelve times the size of the lawful catch.

The five states are firmly divided into two camps with Iran and Turkmenistan demanding that the seabed be split equally five ways with each country claiming an even 20 percent share, while Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan favour splitting the sea into national sectors which would correspond to the length of each country’s shoreline. “We will need to work on the Caspian for a long time still,” warned Saparmurat Niyazov, the President of Turkmenistan.

Meanwhile, it was announced this week that a trilateral meeting between Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan to discuss the construction of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan, will take place in late May. If successfully implemented, any agreement on the pipeline would represent a major economic boost for each of the countries involved.

Having left the failed Caspian summit, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami arrived in Uzbekistan on Friday for talks with Uzbek leader Islam Karimov aimed at boosting Tehran’s influence in the region. During his visit Khatami criticized United States presence in the region warning that, “Terrorism and stabilisation should not be used as a pretext for establishing bases.” Iran and the United States are widely seen as at loggerheads with one another as they try to establish degrees of control over the resource rich region. Khatami also visited Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

And just as Khatami returned to Iran US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld paid fleeting visits to Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan as part of his Central Asian tour. During his visit Rumsfeld praised Turkmen President Niyazov for its role in supporting humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. Roughly one third of all food aid reaching Afghanistan since the US led attack on Afghanistan began in October was brought in through Turkmenistan.

The United States is also gearing itself up for increased investment in Central Asia beyond the regional humanitarian and military aid packages that it has already announced. Mineral resources is next on their hit list according to the Asia Intelligence Wire which said this week that the US was sounding out the possibility of mineral extraction in Kyrgyzstan which has been effectively on hold since a group of Japanese geologists were taken hostage by militants belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan two years ago.

Meanwhile in Tokyo, delegates from 35 countries met to discuss methods designed to stop the production of opium and heroin in Afghanistan amid warnings from the Russian Federal Border Service that this year’s opium crop is expected to exceed 1999’s record harvest. Whereas in 1998 a little over 170 kg of heroin was seized, that amount had risen to almost 2.5 tons two years later.

One of the countries represented at the meeting, Tajikistan, announced last week that there were now 6,340 registered drug addicts in the country, a figure which independent analysts believe is in fact several times higher. Tajikistan faces a growing addiction problem following a 30-fold increase in the number of addicts in the last three years alone. Meanwhile Iran announced this week that it had seized an incredible four tons of the drug after clashes with traffickers along the Iran/Afghan border.

Heavy rains in Tajikistan caused flooding and landslides in parts of the country this week with one landslide causing the death of five children who were out looking for mushrooms when the disaster struck. Elsewhere more than 120 homes were destroyed in the north of the country and electricity supply lines, schools and roads were affected in the east.

Uzbekistan announced this week that 83 state farms were privatized in 2001 contributing to a 104.5 percent increase in agricultural production, but warned that there was still along way to go in its agrarian reform programme.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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