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EU Expresses 'Great Concerns' Over Kyrgyz Violence, Pledges Aid

An elderly ethnic Uzbek man sits in front of his burned-out house in Osh.
BRUSSELS -- Although not initially on the agenda of the EU foreign ministers' meeting, the situation in Kyrgyzstan forced its way to the top of the bloc's current list of concerns.

Speaking after the meeting on June 14, the EU's high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, said the bloc is watching events in Kyrgyzstan with "great concerns."

Three days of violence involving ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south of the country have left at least a hundred people dead and tens of thousands reportedly crossing into neighboring Uzbekistan.

The EU's top diplomat said she has dispatched the EU high representative for Central Asia, Pierre Morel, to the region.

Ashton said humanitarian assistance would be the main avenue for EU involvement in the situation in the short term.

"The first priority must now be the humanitarian situation," she said. "We hear that tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing the country to Uzbekistan, and we stand ready to respond to the most urgent humanitarian needs of the affected population."

She called for an end to the violence and restoration of order.

In the longer term, Ashton said the EU wants Kyrgyzstan to adopt a democratic constitution and believes that the democratic process remains the country's "best chance for peace and stability."

Iran: 'Continuing Concern'

On Iran, Ashton said Tehran's nuclear program is a "continuing concern" for the EU. She said the ministers fully support UN Security Council Resolution 1929, adopted last week, which imposes a new round of sanctions on Tehran.

Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief
The EU will determine what Ashton described as its own "supporting measures" during a summit in Brussels on June 17.

Ashton said that despite the ratcheting up of sanctions, the offer of negotiations remains on the table.

"I've repeatedly said that I'm ready to meet with the Iranians if they're willing to discuss the key issue, the nuclear issue," she said. "I sent a letter to chief negotiator [Saeed] Jalili, reaffirming the offer of a meeting at the earliest opportunity."

On Gaza, the EU foreign policy chief said Israel must conduct a "credible inquiry" into a raid by Israeli Defense Forces on an aid convoy earlier this month which claimed nine lives.

Ashton said the international Quartet's envoy to the Middle East, Tony Blair, told EU ministers in Luxembourg that he now thinks it might be possible to change two key elements of the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

First would be to amend Israel's highly restrictive list of allowed items to a list of prohibited items, such as weapons. The other would involve opening border crossings to allow "a semblance of normal life" to return to Gaza.

Over lunch, the EU ministers met prosecutor Serge Brammertz, of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Following Brammertz' assurance that Serbia maintains good cooperation with the international tribunal, the ministers approved the submission of the EU's Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) for ratification by the bloc.

An SAA is an essential stepping stone toward EU membership.

Ashton said the ministers also briefly discussed Macedonia, whose name -- contested by Greece -- remains an obstacle on the country's path to both the EU and NATO.

Reflecting the EU's unwillingness to collectively get involved in the issue, Ashton remained noncommittal, saying only, "We wish [Macedonia] well and hope for a quick solution which will help us move forward."