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OSCE: Foreign Ministers Focus On Regional Tensions And Security

Oslo, 4 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded its seventh annual ministerial council meeting in Oslo yesterday, after two days of talks focusing mostly on regional tensions.

On Moldova's breakaway Trans-Dniestr region, OSCE foreign ministers issued a statement saying negotiations on its status had "languished." They urged both parties to intensify talks on an agreement that would respect Moldova's independence and territorial integrity.

The foreign ministers also called for stepping up negotiations aimed at ending disputes in Serbia's Kosovo province and over Azerbaijan's breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The meetings also focused more generally on efforts to reach a new understanding on European security arrangements.

RFE/RL's correspondent in Oslo reports that while senior officials attending the ministerial agreed that adoption of a formal European security charter is at least a year away, they said progress has been made. The security model, originally proposed by Russia, is expected to be composed of three elements -- a charter on European security, a platform for cooperative security, and assistance in the implementation of commitments.

Norway takes over the OSCE chairmanship in January from Poland. The OSCE's incoming chairman, Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, said an overall consensus is emerging on the need for an integrated approach to security. Vollebaek told reporters at the closing ministerial briefing that Norway cannot meet the whole range of challenges before the OSCE on its own.

"Looking ahead, the challenges and the tasks that Norway will face are not smaller or less than (Poland faced) this year. Kosovo will be a major task.... It will be a test for Norwegian diplomacy....Again, it will be a task for the (whole OSCE). We have to continue to show the people in the region ... that the (OSCE) is taking their needs into consideration....The human dimension of security is of vital importance to (the OSCE)."

With regard to the human dimension of security, Vollebaek mentioned the need to better accommodate people belonging to national minorities within state borders. He said that included focusing on the importance of their effective participation in public decision making and the enhancement of harmonious co-existence of minorities and majority populations.

Vollebaek said there perhaps would be no greater test for the OSCE in practical crisis management than the ongoing mission in Kosovo. The OSCE is sending a 2,000-person mission to monitor an end to violence in the province after months of clashes this year left hundreds dead.

RFE/RL's correspondent reports that discussions at this week's Oslo meeting focused primarily on the Kosovo verification mission. The ministers were updated with the very latest field information from OSCE Kosovo verification mission chief, Ambassador William Walker.

Walker described the mission as having entered a robust stage. At the same time, Walker said close attention would have to be paid to serious security concerns surrounding the unarmed observers.

Beyond Kosovo, Trans Dniestr and Nagorno-Karabakh, OSCE ministers took decisions aimed at fostering a peaceful settlement to long-standing disputes in Georgia. During their discussions, the ministers also expressed their hopes that Kazakhstan would work closely with the OSCE -- especially on ways to improve its electoral processes ahead of presidential elections planned in January.

The organization also indicated its readiness to contribute, through its mission, to progress in the peace process in Tajikistan.