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Weekly news wrap 31/5

Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) this week over a US $2.0 billion natural gas pipeline project that will supply Ashgabat's natural gas to Islamabad and maybe beyond to the huge Indian market.

The proposed 1,460-km pipeline will supply natural gas from Turkmenistan's giant Dauletabad field, which holds around half of the country's known gas reserves of more than a 100 trillion cubic feet. The pipeline will pass through Afghanistan. Kabul would profit from the deal by charging lucrative transit fees for the fuel.

Pakistan says the proposed gas pipeline will be beneficial to the entire region and not just the three countries involved. Though the MOU has been signed, the three countries need financial sponsors for the project.

Another proposed pipeline project aims to unlock a million barrels of Caspian oil per day. A feasibility study at a cost of US $150 million began on Wednesday. The planned pipeline would run from Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, to the southern Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. Neighbouring Kazakhstan sees a possibility of its crude also being supplied through the pipeline, which may cost up to US $2.9 billion to build.

In another regional development, the trade ministers of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan decided to launch regular meeting mechanism of the trade ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

The ministers signed two documents on Tuesday promising to evolve consensus on cooperation, a key to development of the members states. The also agreed to set up a joint experts' group to make a comprehensive study of regional cooperation, and to make proposals for talks on trade and investment.

Meanwhile the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan will reportedly cede a disputed part of the Pamir mountain range to neighbouring China.

A Tajik spokesman said China would receive some 10,000 of about 28,000 sq km of territory that comprise the mountainous border region. The land is uninhabited.

Tajikistan's announcement comes only a few weeks after the parliament of neighbouring Kyrgyzstan ratified a similar land deal with China. Until 1991, the disputed territory was completely owned by the Soviet Union.

However, Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and Chinese President Jiang Zemin signed an agreement in August 1999 under which 30 percent of the disputed area would be passed to China. Beijing had wanted a 50 percent share of the land.

Kyrgyzstan considers the decision - despite strong opposition and protests from critics - as a good base for economic ties with China. Kyrgyz authorities believe that the deal will boost cross-border trade and there is a chance that Kyrgyzstan may be able to export electricity to China.

Kyrgyzstan also has unsettled borders with Uzbekistan. Of about 1,400-km of disputed border, the two countries have brokered an agreement over only 290 km so far.

Human rights groups remained active in Uzbekistan agitating over the arrest of their colleagues and calling on the international community to check rights abuses.

Last week the Uzbek police used force to break up protests in front of interior ministry headquarters against the imprisonment of a human rights activist.

The secular Uzbek government has long been criticised by opponents of violating the human rights of the followers of independent Muslims. Human rights groups say that thousands of innocent Muslims have been imprisoned in the past few years.

Meanwhile, Tajikistan's Prosecutor-General, Bobojon Bobokhonov, reported that 5,298 people had been freed from the prisons as a result of the 2001 amnesty. These include 1,020 women and 216 minors, who were released from correctional establishments and isolation wards.

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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