04/05/2007, 00.00
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EU delegation in Central Asia talking human rights and oil

Three-day talks between the European Union and Uzbekistan end. They follow similar talks with Central Asian nations held a few days earlier.

Tashkent (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A high-level European Union delegation headed by the German foreign minister completed a three-day visit to Uzbekistan where it met with Uzbek officials to discuss the human rights situation in that country as well as closer relations, economic co-operation and energy issues.

The talks, which started on Monday, between members of the European delegation and officials from the Uzbek Foreign and Justice ministries were shrouded in a cloak of silence. The Europeans also met the lawyers for some detained activists, and some detainees themselves.

On the basis of these talks, the EU will decide in May whether to renew the limited sanctions it imposed on Uzbekistan in the wake of the May 2005 Andijon massacre, lift them, or strengthen them.

On March 27 and 28, the EU delegation was in Astana (Kazakhstan) where it held talks on energy cooperation with Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan). In the meeting Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov said that his government did not intend to explain itself to anyone and called instead for non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

Adopting a conciliatory tone, the EU's special representative to Central Asia Pierre Morel said that Norov’s participation was important and hoped for continued dialogue. However, many analysts fear that the EU’s energy demands may be satisfied at the cost of human rights protection.

The European Union wants to build a pipeline running from the Ukrainian port of Odessa on the Black Sea to Brody near the Polish border. But Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev made it clear that his country will not be part of any European pipeline project unless Russia too is involved.

Kazakhstan already exports 15 million tonnes of oil via the Atyrau-Samara pipeline which runs through Russia. Economically, the Central Asian country is also very dependent on its northern neighbour. Its oil will cost more if it is shipped to Europe through the Caucasus, bringing fewer benefits.

For this reason Kazakh Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Baktykozha Izmukhambetov said that Kazakh oil could be shipped via the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk to Bulgaria's Black Sea port of Burgas and from there flow to Alexandroupolis, in northern Greece, via a 280-kilometre pipeline.

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