EU Visiting Turkmenistan to Talk Energy

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Senior EU officials will descend on Turkmenistan this week to promote cooperation with Central Asia, a region that is key to Europe's ambitions to diversify energy supplies and reduce its dependence on Russia.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and the French and Slovenian foreign ministers will meet their Central Asian counterparts in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, for talks Wednesday and Thursday on issues ranging from fuel to democracy.

"Implementation [of EU strategy] is well under way and the EU is working with partners in the region on joint priorities papers detailing future action," the EU said in a statement ahead of the talks, likely to be held behind closed doors.

Home to some of the world's biggest oil and gas reserves, the region -- which includes Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan -- is prone to authoritarian rule and most of its states have been criticized in the West over their records on democracy and human rights.

Some rights activists and opposition politicians have accused the West of putting energy above democracy in their Central Asia contacts, a charge that Western governments have denied.