Black Sea states agree on stronger regional ties
BUCHAREST, June 5 (Reuters) Leaders of states around the Black Sea committed during a summit in Bucharest today to work together on regional problems such as organised crime, security, energy supplies and economic development.
The nine mostly ex-Soviet states, except for Greece and Turkey, also called on the European Union to get more involved in the region, where many countries are struggling to forge closer ties with the West as they move away from Russia's orbit.
But they made little progress in outlining an end to several territorial disputes which stemmed from the messy dissolution of the Soviet Union and cloud the prospects for stability in the region, also known to be a major illegal trafficking area.
''We announce the launch of the Black Sea Forum for Dialogue and Partnership, a process that will serve as a regional platform ... to define a common vision of democratic and sustainable development,'' the countries said in a declaration, which was not signed by Russia.
''The Forum will provide a framework for generating new ideas ...
encouraging regional cooperation in crisis management,'' said the nine states including EU candidates Romania and Bulgaria, as well as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Turkey and Ukraine.
The EU, which is looking for alternative routes for energy supplies throughout Asia, welcomed the agreement, urging regional leaders to take action on organised crime and territorial conflicts.
''Our aim is to see a stable, democratic region here ... to help fight human trafficking, (the) transit of drugs, to prevent weapon smuggling,'' said Peter Semneby, EU special representative for Caucasus and central Asia.
''The main challenge is to ensure security and stability in the frozen conflicts zone ... (which) should be monitored not to turn into hot spots again,'' Semneby said.
But presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, locked in a dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory, appeared to be no closer to resolving the conflict.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but under the de facto control of ethnic Armenian separatists and has been a scene of conflict in which about 35,000 people were killed. Other territorial disputes in the region include Moldova and Georgia against Russia.
REUTERS KD PM2005