EU Makes Human Rights Priority With Central Asia

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- Human rights will be a priority in the European Union's relations with Central Asia, a senior EU envoy said Thursday.

The announcement came on the heels of an Amnesty International appeal for the EU to insist on the human rights provisions in its Central Asia strategy adopted last year.

"We have agreed that an essential part of the strategy we have developed together is a structured dialogue on human rights," Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said at a news conference in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat. Slovenia currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

The remarks were made after a rare meeting in Ashgabat between EU officials and the foreign ministers of the five former Soviet Central Asian states -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Amnesty International welcomed the announcement, but noted it had come a long time after the EU's adoption last year of a five-year Central Asia strategy.

"We are pleased the EU are now saying human rights are at the heart of the relationship, but that should have been the case for the last 10 months as well," said David Nichols, executive officer for foreign policy at Amnesty International's EU office in Brussels.

Rupel also met separately with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and discussed prospects for the EU investment in the Turkmen energy sector.

Berdymukhammedov expressed interest in diversifying routes for the export of Turkmenistan's abundant energy resources to the world market.

All Central Asian natural gas exports currently flow through Russia, which has sought to cement its grip on energy supplies to Europe.