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Conflict resolution initiatives in Central Asia have received a US $22.2 million boost from the United Stated Agency for International Development (USAID). A USAID press release said it would channel the money through international NGOs, which worked with their local counterparts, to implement its Community Action Investment Programme (CAIP). The plan is to launch innovative conflict prevention activities in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. USAID's assistant administrator for the region, Kent Hill, was quoted as saying: "It is indeed fortunate that USAID in Central Asia focused on conflict mitigation as a core element of its assistance programmes prior to September 11th. This foresight enabled the rapid rollout of the CAIP programme, now a centrepiece of USAID's conflict mitigation activities in Central Asia, demonstrating the [US President George] Bush administration's strong commitment to mitigation activities." Potential causes of conflict in the region include border disputes, inter-ethnic tensions, poverty and access to natural resources. CAIP programmes are expected to address some of these by implementing a wide range of development projects, as well as initiatives to facilitate dialogue and strengthen democracy. India, too, is trying to increase its scope of investment in Central Asia. It was reported in New Delhi this week that government leaders and Information Technology business chiefs would head for Kazakhstan at the end of July at the invitation of its president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. At around the same time, the government is hoping to host health ministers from across the region to promote Indian pharmaceutical companies, which produce cheap drugs in the region, and to showcase its health services. According to reports, representatives of India's small and medium enterprises - in fields ranging from information technology to electronics - will head for Tajikistan in August to take part in two regional exhibitions aimed at tapping joint venture opportunities and identifying products that can be exported to these countries. "This is India's attempt at making a place for itself in the Central Asian region and it will remain on India's radar for a long time," a business source was quoted as saying. In another move aimed at developing the region, it was reported this week that a group of international financial and development institutions launched a new fund, the SEAF Central Asia Small Enterprise Fund, to foster the growth of small and medium businesses in five countries in the region. The US $8.6 million fund was set up by the Swiss government, USAID and the International Finance Corporation, which is part of the World Bank Group. Reports said the fund would make direct equity, equity-related, debt and leasing investments in small and medium enterprises, and help them improve their management practises. "We will coach, tutor, nurse businesses for prosperity and growth," fund director Donald Nickolson, told reporters in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. The Soros Foundation announced this week that it had invested US $25 million dollars in Kazakhstan over the past seven years. Most of the money had been invested in the public sector, in education and health care, said Yevgeniy Zhovtis, a senior foundation official. He added that funding would continue at the same level for at least the next eight years. In a separate development, Kyrgyz and Uzbekistan entered into a new round of negotiations this week over the 1,400 km border they share. The two countries have been trying to delimit their border since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and they gained independence. Salamat Alamanov, head of the Kyrgyz negotiating team, said there had already been agreement over 450 km of the border. On the health front, the Kyrgyz health ministry this week asked the World Health Organisation (WHO) to finance the prevention of a malaria epidemic in the country. The government earlier asked rice cultivators in southern parts of the country to dry up their fields to prevent the rapid reproduction of malaria-carrying mosquitoes. According to the Kyrgyz Sanitary and Epidemiological Department, 100 malaria cases had been registered by the end of last week. They said the spread of the disease was triggered by intensive population migration, the large number of rice plantations, a continuing epidemic in neighbouring Tajikistan and heavy rains. Meanwhile,thirty-eight-year-old Islamic activist Musharraf Usmanova, found guilty of leading female members of the banned Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir and of promoting religious extremism in Uzbekistan, was handed down a two-year suspended sentence this week. Matilda Bogner, a Human Rights Watch researcher in the country, was quoted as saying that since the beginning of the year two women had been convicted and imprisoned for three-and-a-half years each on similar charges and 10 women, including Usmanova, had been given suspended sentences. Human rights activists believe that 32 other women alleged to be members of the banned group are in custody awaiting trial. Hizb-ut-Tahrir, described as a secretive organisation with networks throughout the Middle East and former Soviet region, and aimed at uniting Muslims under the Islamic law of Shariah, has been targeted in recent months by the staunchly secular Uzbek government. Activists have accused Tashkent of widespread human rights violations, however, in their campaign against fundamentalists.

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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