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EU: Brussels Makes Curbing Drug Trade A Priority In Developing Ties With Central Asia

  • Ahto Lobjakas

The European Union made it clear yesterday that it is seeking deeper ties with Central Asia, putting particular emphasis on stemming the increased flow of drugs from Afghanistan to member states. Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, said after meeting with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov yesterday that the EU is ready to upgrade aid to Central Asia and expand the scope of political dialogue with Tajikistan and other countries in the region.

Brussels, 26 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union today welcomed the deepening of political and economic cooperation with Tajikistan, attaching special importance to collaboration in stemming the flow of drugs from Afghanistan to Europe through Central Asia.

Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, said after meeting with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Brussels yesterday that EU-Tajik relations are "clearly moving forward." He said the EU is keen on signing a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Tajikistan. Tajikistan has yet to sign up to the bloc's preferred method of developing ties with the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Prodi said the EU is also looking to upgrade its assistance from a "purely humanitarian" level to "more developmental." EU officials say he told Rakhmonov the EU will provide the Central Asian region with 50 million euros ($53.27 million) annually within the framework of the TACIS program for technical assistance. The EU also finances a Food Security Program in the region.

Prodi made it clear that the EU is first and foremost looking for cooperation in stemming the flow of drugs from Afghanistan to Europe. He praised Tajikistan's recent efforts, noting the urgency of the problem: "I'm very grateful for the cooperation that we have [between the EU and Tajikistan] in delicate spheres like drug trafficking. That is a matter that is worrying us more and more because it is daily increasing."

Prodi said the great majority of the drugs used in the EU originate from Afghanistan and arrive via Central Asia. He said the EU is preparing countermeasures to curb transit but said it is too early to offer any details.

EU officials told RFE/RL that the influx of drugs has increased dramatically after the war in Afghanistan, which left great swathes of the country without effective political control. One official said that according to Iranian estimates, the production of opium in Afghanistan has increased tenfold since the war.

Rakhmonov said the problem could not be fought on a regional basis and called for a "global coalition against drugs."

He acknowledged Tajikistan faces the biggest problem in Central Asia, with its 1,400-kilometer mountainous border with Afghanistan. "The volume of narcotics seized at the border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan has increased and, according to UN calculations, in terms of seizure of drugs at the border, Tajikistan comes first among the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries and fourth in the world," Rakhmonov said.

Prodi yesterday also praised Tajikistan's cooperative attitude in the fight against terrorism and Dushanbe's contribution to the humanitarian relief effort in Afghanistan.

Speaking of upgrading economic ties, Prodi warned Rakhmonov that EU assistance can only be effective if Tajikistan commits itself to land reform and privatization.

Prodi said the EU is "encouraged" by recent positive developments in Tajikistan in the field of media freedom, in particular the granting of broadcasting licenses to independent radio stations.

However, he also highlighted continuing EU concerns over human rights and democracy. Officials say that during the meeting, Prodi criticized the tightening of government controls over the religious community in Tajikistan and the difficulties opposition parties face in registering for elections.

The number of death sentences, sometimes after "summary trials," was said to be of special concern for the EU.

In the field of constitutional reform, Prodi urged Rakhmonov to consult the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and comply with its standards. Officials say he told Rakhmonov that the EU would be seriously concerned about any limitations imposed on the powers of the parliament and the judiciary.

Prodi emphasized that "inclusiveness" had been the "secret of Tajikistan's success" in avoiding armed conflict after the end of the 1992-97 civil war. He said opposition parties, independent media, and religious communities in Tajikistan must continue to play an integral role in the political process.

Prodi said Tajikistan's commitment to democracy and human rights would be of "major importance" to the EU in future cooperation with the country.

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