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Weekly news wrap

A powerful earthquake shook Tajikistan on Sunday. The epicentre of the quake, measuring 4-5 on the 12-point [Mercalli] scale, was reported to be located 160 km northeast of the capital, Dushanbe. There were no reports of casualties or damage.

On Monday, Tajik agriculture minister Tursun Rahmatov was reported as saying that the locust was no longer a threat to agricultural crops in the country, owing to the financial assistance of the UN in the elimination of the pests.

The same day, the Tajik government and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) signed an agreement under which WFP would provide food aid to the country. The document was signed by the Tajik foreign minister, Talbak Nazarov, and the head of WFP in Tajikistan, Ardag Meghdessian.

Meanwhile, the Tajik Asia-Plus news agency reported that an unfavourable sanitary and epidemic health situation had emerged in two bordering Tajik and Kyrgyz regions. The agency stated that 52 cases of malaria had been reported in Kyrgyzstan's southern province of Batken and four cases in the neighbouring Isfara district of the Tajik Sughd Province over the first six months of 2003.

On Tuesday, it was reported that the bodies of 211 Tajik migrants had been transported to Tajikistan in the first six months of 2003 by rail and air. The Tajik transport prosecutor, Kurbonali Muhabbatov, reportedly told local media that the number of deaths involving Tajik nationals working in Russia had increased over past years. According to the report citing the prosecutor's office, 328 bodies of Tajik labour migrants were brought to Tajikistan from Russia last year, of which 78 had been killed, 118 died of illnesses and the cause of death of the other 125 people had not been identified.

Tajik health specialists are said to be carrying out emergency measures to localise an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Darvaz district, adjacent to Afghanistan, where several dozen animals had reportedly been infected. According to the Tajik epidemiologists, foot-and-mouth disease might have come from Afghanistan, where it had reached a high level, Russian ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

Going to Uzbekistan, the Uzbek national news agency UzA said on Tuesday that the country would source 80 percent of drinking water from subterranean waters in the future, citing the Uzbek Environment Protection Committee. However, the quality of subterranean waters tended to deteriorate due to increasing human activity, and the largest reserves of fresh water - Sokh, Toshloq and Beshariq were located in the Ferghana Valley.

Meanwhile, the UN Theme Group on HIV/AIDS in the country and the Uzbek ministry of defence signed a project on HIV/AIDS prevention, with the aim of helping the Armed Forces of Uzbekistan to prevent HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, through the development of an education programme.

UzA reported on Wednesday that the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in the country had started implementing a project on energy for remote villages of Karakalpakstan (an autonomous republic in northeastern Uzbekistan). Some 25 solar collectors were to be installed, and 280 solar days made the usage of solar energy in the area convenient.

In neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, it was reported on Sunday that the Kyrgyz government was concerned about landmines on the Uzbek border. Satybaldy Chyrmashev, Kyrgyz minister of ecology and emergency affairs, reportedly said agreement had been reached with their Russian counterparts on the training of de-mining specialists. Uzbekistan mined its borders with neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan after the first incursion of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in 1999 without the delineation of the borders. Kyrgyz officials claimed that the Uzbek authorities laid minefields on Kyrgyz territory as well.

Kyrgyzstan was to establish tough controls on the import and export of materials usable for making weapons of mass destruction, Nina Kirichenko, the Kyrgyz deputy minister for external trade and industry said on Tuesday, adding the measures would allow the authorities to strictly control movements of dangerous materials.

On Wednesday, opposition parties in Kyrgyzstan said they would urge the government at upcoming round-table talks, starting Saturday, to give them a more active role in the country and to emphasise the importance of civil rights in building a party system. Emil Aliyev, leader of the Ar Namys party, one of the leading opposition groups in the country, said existing political parties must be allowed to work without pressure.

An Uzbek border guard fatally shot a Kyrgyz man, Kyrgyz officials said on Thursday. Adyl Urkumbaev, 21, was shot dead after having a confrontation with Uzbek border guards in an attempt to enter Uzbek territory.

The Kyrgyz national news agency, Kabar, reported on Friday that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was to release US $4.9 million to fight HIV/AIDS and $1.2 million for TB. Moreover, Bishkek founded a special inter-ministerial body to tackle the situation on the diseases in prisons.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan launched its first solar energy project in the Kazakh commercial capital of Almaty on Tuesday. Funded by UNDP and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the move was seen as a major first step in promoting clean and efficient energy usage in the country.

Kazakh and Turkmen officials reached preliminary agreement on Wednesday on how to delineate their mutual border on the resource-rich Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan's foreign ministry reportedly said. A Kazakh-Turkmen expert group laid the basis for an agreement between the two ex-Soviet Central Asian neighbours, the ministry said in a statement.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairman-in-Office, Netherlands Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, on Thursday urged Central Asian countries to cooperate more closely after having returned from a tour of the region. "The opening of borders is the only way to achieve long-term regional stability, but requires at the same time effective instruments to combat terrorism and international crime, such as the trafficking of arms, drugs and human beings", he said.

Meanwhile, member countries of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) on Thursday signed the ECO Trade Agreement (Ecota) to boost trade and investment in the region. The agreement was signed by all the ECO ministers of commerce and trade and heads of delegation of the ECO member countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Under the Ecota, the ECO member states will reduce tariffs to a level of 15 per cent in eight years.

On Turkmenistan, it was reported on Wednesday that the Turkmen ambassador to Armenia, Toyli Kurbanov, disappeared in apparent defection. The Turkmen embassy in Yerevan said it had received an order from Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on Tuesday, stating that Kurbanov was no longer ambassador. Two months earlier, the Turkmen ambassador to the United Kingdom, Chary Babaev, requested asylum there, while two former Turkmen foreign ministers and an ambassador to Turkey have also defected over past years.

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:

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