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Annan to Discuss Security, Drugs in Tajikistan Visit - 2002-10-20

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is on a tour of Central Asian countries, meeting with several leaders to discuss security and other issues.

Mr. Annan arrived in Tajikistan's capital city Dushanbe for talks with President Emomali Rakhmonov and other top officials.

Security and the situation in neighboring Afghanistan are among the issues under discussion. Tajikistan played a key role in the war on terror in Afghanistan one year ago.

But as the poorest of the former Soviet republics, Tajikistan again feels neglected now that the Taleban have fallen from power in Afganistan.

Another key problem to be addressed during Mr. Annan's visit is drug trafficking. Much of the world's opium and heroin pass through Tajikistan's porous borders en route to Russia, Europe and the rest of the world.

Dushanbe was chosen as the site of a new U.N.-sponsored Drug Control Agency, which Mr. Annan is scheduled to visit.

The U.N. leader arrived in Tajikistan after stops in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

In talks with Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, the U.N. chief heard about the ecological threat posed by the disappearance of the Aral Sea.

The inland body of water has been shrinking for 40 years due to massive cotton irrigation projects that diverted water from the two rivers that used to empty into the Aral. This has caused serious problems because of increased levels of salt and pesticide residues, which have had a dramatic impact on the health of millions of people.

Central Asian leaders are now asking for more international help in dealing with this legacy of the Soviet era.