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Turkmenistan: UN Opens Regional Preventive Diplomacy Center

Central Asia is rich in history, oil, and gas -- and troubled by security risks, organized crime, narcotics trafficking, and extremism. In response to those threats, the United Nations this week launched a center for diplomacy in Ashgabat intended to help the region tackle its challenges before they spiral out of control.

The UN says its Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy, which opened on December 10, will seek to assist the governments of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan in building “capacities to peacefully prevent conflict, in facilitating dialogue, and in catalyzing international support behind projects and initiatives." It will be headed by a senior representative of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and will have an initial budget of $2.3 million as well as a small international staff.

Presiding over the inauguration ceremony, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov said that "contemporary history contains more than just a few examples when diplomacy in various forms and manifestations was a serious factor in preventing wars and conflicts."

Underscoring the importance of the event was the list of attendees.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon was there, as were the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Iran. Representatives from regional groups were also at the conference, such as the general secretaries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), representatives from the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the United Nations.

Lynn Pascoe, the UN undersecretary for political affairs, attended on behalf of the UN secretary-general. Pascoe noted that the center was the result of years of talks that have resulted in a "new chapter" opening up for the region.

"After years of careful consultation and negotiations, this event arrives with a spirit of high cooperation and friendship. It begins a new chapter in the partnership between the UN and the countries of Central Asia," he said.

'Investment In Peace'

Pascoe also read comments from Ban that spoke of the "tremendous promise" the center brings, since "prevention is an investment in peace." Ban said the costs of wars and conflicts include "lives needlessly lost, economies destroyed and hopes for development...dashed."

Central Asia is well-acquainted wars and conflicts. Civil war ravaged Tajikistan from 1992 to 1997, and its effects linger. Terrorist groups have staged attacks in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Until recently, years of war in Afghanistan effectively cut Kabul off from Central Asian. The opium and heroin trade from Afghanistan continues to take a toll on the region’s economies, while the associated problem of drug addiction makes an impact on regional healthcare. At the same time, security and border forces are engaged in a battle that is growing in scope and cost.

Combating these problems and avoiding future conflicts are clearly formidable tasks. The UN has made no secret that it hopes regional groupings such as the SCO -- which brings together Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, and China -- will help advance the center’s mission.

Bolat Nurgaliev, the secretary-general of the SCO, said at the ceremony that regional governments are united in "the joint battle against terrorism, separatism, and extremism, the battle against the illegal trafficking of narcotics and weapons and other forms of transnational illegal activities, including illegal immigration." He added that the Central Asian countries are also "broadening effective regional cooperation in the political, trade, economics, defense, healthcare, environmental protection, cultural, educational, energy, transportation, and other fields."

Khurshid Anwar, the secretary-general of the ECO, a regional economic grouping that also includes Turkey and Iran, said the new center’s mission would require assistance from many quarters.

"The 21st century has begun with events of great consequence," Anwar said. "These are unfolding in rapid succession. Their impact is not confined to any specific country or region. Nor are all these developments positive and constructive: a rising spiral of extremism and terrorism, the menace of drugs, human smuggling, and money laundering, and the steady degradation of the environment affect us all."

For Turkmenistan, emerging from years of self-imposed isolation under former President Saparmurat Niyazov, the new UN center is a major boost to its international profile.

On December 12, Ashgabat marks the 12th anniversary of the UN's recognition of Turkmenistan as a neutral state. Anwar stated that Turkmenistan's policy of neutrality, as well as its central location in the region, make it a good choice to host the center.

(RFE/RL's Turkmen and Kazakh services contributed to this report)

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