New OSCE chairman promises to solve conflicts

The new chairman of Europe's leading security organization said Thursday that solving deadlocked conflicts and tackling organized crime would be the OSCE's main priorities in 2006. Addressing the 55-nation OSCE Permanent Council for the first time as chairman, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht said the sensitive issue of energy supplies, which surfaced recently with a gas conflict between Russia and Ukraine, was also high on its agenda.

De Gucht said the OSCE will send a technical mission "not only to Russia and Ukraine, but to other affected countries as well." He said the OSCE would organize a conference on the reliability of energy supplies in the second half of the year. Speaking about deadlocked conflicts, De Gucht said he hoped 2006 would be a year of new opportunities. He announced a visit to Armenia and Azerbaijan on Jan. 24 when he hoped to contribute to the successful outcome of peace talks on Nagorno-Karabakh.

De Gucht also saw positive developments in South Ossetia in Georgia. He hoped that these would serve as examples for other regions including Moldova and the separatist Trans-Dniester region. The OSCE will also be actively involved in the Kosovo process, De Gucht said. "This will be a critical year for Kosovo. The OSCE, with its massive presence on the ground, is bound to play a major role when UNMIK winds down its mission," he said in a reference to United Nations forces there.

Speaking about the upcoming presidential elections in Belarus, De Gucht said that the OSCE hopes to receive an invitation to monitor the vote. So far Belarus has issued no invitations to international observers and U.N. officials have already expressed doubts that the former Soviet republic would hold free and fair presidential elections.

Incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko has ruled the nation of 10 million since 1994, quashing opposition groups and independent media, leading Western nations to dub him "Europe's last dictator." The fight against organized crime will focus on combatting human trafficking, illegal drugs and weapon trading, money laundering and corruption, De Gucht said, reports the AP. N.U.

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