Staff writer

Japan will pledge about 18 billion yen in fresh yen loans to Azerbaijan to help finance the Severnaya gas-coal composite power project in the oil-rich Caucasian country, government sources said Wednesday.

Japan will also pledge about 3 billion yen in low-interest official loans to Uzbekistan for projects to modernize three local airports in the Central Asian country, the sources said.

Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura will make the loan pledges when he visits Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan during Golden Week, which begins next Thursday, the sources said.

He will also visit Macedonia — and possibly Albania — to inspect Kosovo refugee camps and announce a package of additional measures to help the refugees, the sources said.

The sources said that after Komura announces the new assistance package for Kosovo refugees, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi will explain it to U.S. President Bill Clinton at a White House meeting on May 3.

When Azerbaijan President Heydar Aliyev made his first official visit to Japan in February 1998, Tokyo and Baku exchanged an official note on the 20 billion yen loan for the Severnaya power project.

It was the first extension of official yen loans to Azerbaijan since Japan established diplomatic ties in September 1992, following the Soviet Union’s breakup in late 1991.

The sources said that the additional 18 billion yen loan will be disbursed as early as this summer for the second — and final — phase of the Severnaya power project.

Japan disbursed 15.5 billion yen to Uzbekistan in fiscal 1996 for projects to modernize three local airports. At that time, Japan had no plans to provide more loans for the projects. However, an additional 3 billion yen will be pledged because the country now faces a shortage of funds needed to complete the projects, the sources said.

Japan has so far disbursed loans totaling 34 billion yen, including 15.5 billion yen for the airport projects, to Uzbekistan, with which it established diplomatic ties with in January 1992.

Komura’s forthcoming visits to Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan are part of Japan’s efforts to achieve a new foreign-policy goal of strengthening former weak relations with countries in what government officials call the “Silk Road region.”

The region consists of five Central Asian countries — Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan — and three Caucasian countries — Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia.

The new Japanese foreign-policy goal of beefing up relations with the countries, all former Soviet republics, was spelled out by then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto in July 1997.

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