In Central Asia this week, a one-day summit of the 10 heads of states of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) ended in the Turkish city of Istanbul on Monday. The leaders expressed their determination to strengthen multifaceted relations in the areas of trade, communications, energy, minerals, environment, agriculture, industry and drug control, thereby boosting regional stability.
A predominantly Muslim organisation, the ECO comprises Caspian and South Central Asian nations, and was first set up by Turkey, Pakistan and Iran in 1985. Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan joined the ECO following an enlargement move in 1992. With a combined population of 350 million, the member-countries of the regional body cover an area of some seven million sq km.
While the member states pledged continuing contributions towards reconstruction in Afghanistan by creating a joint fund, they also decided to implement the 1995 ECO Transit Trade Agreement and the 1998 ECO Transit Transport Framework Agreement, facilitating trade and transport in the region and beyond.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to arrive in Uzbekistan on Friday on the latest leg of his 12-day Central Asian tour. In his meetings with regional leaders, Annan is expected to discuss issues related to strengthening international and regional security, the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the heads of state at the Millennium Summit in New York in 2000, and the enhancement and expansion of cooperation between the UN and the member-states in the region.
The Iranian media reported on Tuesday that after three years of delay the Afghan government resumed the flow of water from the Helmand river into Iran from the Khajaki dam in the southern Afghan province of Helmand. After flowing over some 700 km, the water would reach the lower river basin of Iran's Lake Hamun by about next week. The Lake Hamun is facing an ecological disaster after the blocking of the River Helmand - resulting in the widespread displacement and destruction of wildlife - during the severe drought in Afghanistan.
Tajikistan's supreme court sentenced to death two former opposition fighters on Monday and imposed prison terms of various duration to 17 others. The fighters were accused of mass murder, terrorism, treason, forming criminal gangs and possessing illegal arms. The country's brutal five-year civil war ended with an agreement in 1997 that brought some of the Islamist-led opposition leaders into the government, but some warlords continued fighting in the years which followed.
Also in Tajikistan, President Emomali Rahmonov urged the British government to increase aid for to his impoverished nation, while meeting the new British envoy, Michael Smith. Many British charities have been implementing humanitarian projects in the mountainous former Soviet republic. Tajikistan hopes that London will help it expand relations with the EU, particularly by broadening the Technical Assistance for the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS)programme.
Meanwhile, in a move favouring the reconstruction of Afghanistan, Russia announced its backing for the Turkmenistan-Pakistan gas pipeline via Afghanistan. The controversial project would run 1,500 km from the Daulatabad fields of Turkmenistan, across 764 km of Afghan territory, before subsequently linking with Pakistan's gas grid and onwards to the Indian Ocean. Russia hopes that such projects will contribute to the rapid rehabilitation of the country.
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