EU pushes for stronger energy, political ties with Central Asia
Apr 23, 2007, 14:37 GMT
Luxembourg - The European Union on Monday vowed to push for stronger links with energy-rich countries in Central Asia in a bid to slash the bloc's energy dependence on Russia.
EU foreign ministers agreed to intensify cooperation with Central Asian countries in areas including energy and transport, environment, trade and economic development.
An EU statement said that regular dialogue would also be sought in the fight against human trafficking and organized crime.
Other areas of planned stronger cooperation with Central Asian governments would include the rule of law, human rights and efforts for democratic reforms in the countries of the region.
The EU plans to adopt a new political strategy on Central Asia at a meeting of EU leaders in June.
Ministers also pressed Uzbekistan to hold further talks on human rights. The EU imposed a travel ban on Uzbek officials following the deaths of hundreds of civilians at the hands of the Uzbek authorities in the city of Andijan in 2005.
The EU next month wants to review its sanctions against Uzbekistan, which also include a separate arms embargo.
Human rights watchdogs have urged the EU not to lift the sanctions, arguing that Uzbekistan had not improved but only hardened its stance on fundamental rights.
EU foreign ministers also promised support for reforms in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.
With global competition for energy sources becoming ever fiercer, the EU's top policy makers have vowed to make access to secure oil and gas supplies a top priority of the bloc's foreign policy.
Russia is a major European energy supplier, delivering 30 per cent of the EU's oil imports or a quarter of the bloc's consumption. More than 50 per cent of these supplies transit through Belarus.
But increasingly worried about Russia's use of its vast energy resources as a political tool, the EU also plans to forge stronger ties with the energy-rich nations of the Black Sea and other regions, including Africa.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur