OSCE Says Karabakh is Main Concern

ALMATY (Reuters)–The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Wednesday expressed its particular concern over smoldering conflicts in Yugoslavia’s Kosovo and Nagorno-Karabakh regions.

"The Kosovo issue is now in the center of my attention,” OSCE Acting Chairman Bronislaw Geremek told a news conference during a visit to Kazakhstan. "It may be the most explosive–the most difficult issue which should be treated by the OSCE.”

Ethnic Albanians–who want to secede–outnumber Serbs nine to one in Serbia’s restive Kosovo province. More than 100 people have been killed in clashes between Albanians and police this year.

The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is another big concern for the OSCE–which represents 54 states of Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Karabakh forces–backed by neighboring former Soviet Armenia–took most of the region and a huge swathe of Azeri territory outside it in a six-year war which ended in a truce in 1994. About 35,000 people died in the fighting.

Geremek said that recent changes in the governmen’s of both states have seriously shattered hopes for the better.

"I spoke to foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan–and both of them convinced me that the discussion was now at a final stage. But both of them are no longer foreign ministers.”

Armenia’s newly-elected president–Robert Kocharian–has already rejected the OSCE plan–which would require the local ethnic Armenian forces from Nagorno-Karabakh to give up a large tract of Azeri territory outside the enclave.

The OSCE plan also called for Nagorno-Karabakh to have a high degree of autonomy within Azerbaijan’s international borders. But Kocharian has ruled out any settlement that would leave Karabakh formally under Azeri rule.

Referring to chances of resolving the Karabakh issue–Geremek said–"Now we have to wait and see what intentions will be on both sides."

Potentially–ex-Soviet Central Asia is also conflict-prone.

The five states of the Caspian–Russia–Kazakhstan–Azerbaijan–Turkmen’stan and Iran–differ on how to divide the oil- and gas-rich sea into national sectors–and Geremek said this might lead to regional conflicts.

"One of the reasons for my visit to Central Asia is the importance of the question of mineral resources in the region and possibilities of emerging conflicts over them,” he said.

But he added–"After my talks with President (Nursultan) Nazarbayev (of Kazakhstan) I am convinced that a solution can be found in the region…I hope that no negative scenario will appear in the region."

Last week Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Nazarbayev obliged their governmen’s to prepare by April 28 an agreement on dividing oil reserves in the Caspian.

Another regional concern is the situation in ex-Soviet Tajikistan–where a four-year civil war between the Moscow-backed secular government and Islamists ended last year and peace remains shaky.

"President Nazarbayev emphasized that the passivity of the OSCE in the issue of Tajikistan’s conflict could not be justified,” Geremek said.

He also hailed a decision by Tajikistan’s neighbors Kazakhstan–Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to form a regional peacekeeping battalion to prevent instability from spreading across vast but sparsely populated Central Asia.

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