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UN Chief Looks To Improve Central Asian Cooperation

  • Nikola Krastev

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (file photo)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (file photo)

UNITED NATIONS -- Ban Ki-moon is set to arrive in Central Asia for his first trip there as United Nations secretary-general.

Ban is scheduled to visit all five Central Asian states for talks set to focus on regional cooperation, disarmament, nuclear nonproliferation, the environment, water distribution, energy, and climate change.

Ban's first stop, on April 1-2, will be the capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat, where he is scheduled to meet President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and visit the UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy.

Ban's spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said Ban will seek to discuss with Central Asian leaders issues of mutual interest to their countries that have sometimes proven to be contentious.

"It means helping the countries of the region to work together, to cooperate on topics that might in other circumstances lead to tensions," Nesirky said.

Mediator Needed?

Among the contentious issues in Central Asia are border disputes, water distribution, the environment, and energy.

Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are in a deepening dispute over the construction of the massive Roghun hydroelectric power plant, which Tashkent opposes.

And last month, Uzbek authorities imposed restrictions on how frequently Kyrgyz citizens may enter Uzbekistan.

Nesirky declined to comment on whether there is a role for Ban to play in mediating disputes among the Central Asian states but he said that water and energy issues, for example, are part of regional cooperation.

"I am not going to prejudge what they talk about in particular but clearly, regional cooperation, as I've mentioned, covers a wide range of topics including water resources and how countries can work together," Nesirky said.

From Ashgabat, Ban will travel to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where he is to meet President Kurmanbek Bakiev and address parliament on April 3.

On April 4, Ban heads to Uzbekistan, where he is to meet President Islam Karimov and deliver a lecture at Tashkent's University of World Economy and Diplomacy on April 5.

Ban is also scheduled to make a trip to the Aral Sea to see firsthand the ecological damage inflicted on what was once the world's fourth-largest lake.

From Uzbekistan, Ban is to continue on April 5 to Tajikistan, where he is scheduled to meet President Emomali Rahmon.

The final leg of the UN chief's Central Asian trip is Kazakhstan on April 6-7. There, Ban is to meet with President Nursultan Nazarbaev and members of parliament.

And he is to visit Semipalatinsk, a former testing ground for Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Nesirky said that Ban wanted "to see for himself the effects of those nuclear tests, and to be able to talk there about the importance of nonproliferation."

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