* Uzbekistan to stop gas supplies to neighbour from April
* Turkmen-Tajik deal subject to Uzbek transit accord
* Abrupt drop in supply to harm aluminium, cement plants
By Roman Kozhevnikov
DUSHANBE, March 28 (Reuters) – Tajikistan aims to secure natural gas supplies from Turkmenistan to avert a worsening fuel shortage as its traditional supplier prepares to stop pumping from next week, a high-ranking Tajik government representative told Reuters on Wednesday.
Uzbekistan, the sole supplier of natural gas to its Central Asian neighbour, had informed the Tajik government it would halt supplies from April 1 in order to meet growing demand from its main partner, China, the government representative said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardising current talks, he cited a letter from state company Uztransgaz to its equivalent gas transportation company in Tajikistan.
Mountainous Tajikistan, the poorest of 15 former Soviet republics, experiences frequent power blackouts. Only southern regions of the country and upmarket homes in the centre of the capital Dushanbe receive regular supplies of gas.
The biggest losers from any abrupt cut in gas supplies would be the state-run aluminium smelter, which contributes more than half of the country’s entire export revenues, and a state-owned cement factory.
Relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have long been strained over the former’s plans to build a huge hydroelectric power station that Uzbekistan says would disrupt water supplies downstream and harm its agricultural production.
"The stoppage of Uzbek gas supplies is a politically motivated step," said Dushanbe-based political analyst Ramzan Sharipov.
"If Dushanbe cannot agree with Tashkent on supplies of Uzbek gas or transit of Turkmen gas, among the first to suffer will be Tajik Cement, whose products are used to construct the Rogun hydroelectric plant; the cornerstone in Tajik-Uzbek relations."
With an acute shortage looming, the Tajik government representative said Turkmenistan was prepared to export the necessary volumes of gas at an "acceptable" price.
"But we don’t have a common border with Turkmenistan, so we need once again to ask Uzbekistan. Now we are asking only to use the gas pipeline that crosses its territory."
Uzbekistan’s current gas contract with Tajikistan, signed in January after a two-day interruption to supplies, expires at the end of the first quarter.
The contracted volume for the three months to March 31 was 45 million cubic metres, state company Uzbekneftegaz said in a statement posted on its website, http://www.ung.uz, on March 25.
The Tajik representative said his government was willing to continue taking Uzbek gas when available and that it had already proposed a new supply contract to cover the second quarter.
"We buy 15 to 20 million cubic metres of gas every month, which is no more than 10 percent of daily gas production volumes in Uzbekistan," he said. "Our people have long been deprived the pleasure of contemplating warm gas heaters in their homes."
An Uzbek Foreign Ministry spokesman said by telephone from Tashkent that gas supply talks had "no relation to politics."
Turkmenistan holds 4.3 percent of global natural gas reserves, BP data shows, ranking it joint fourth with Saudi Arabia in terms of reserves, behind only Russia, Iran and Qatar.
A source in the Turkmen government said he could not comment on Tajik supplies before negotiations were concluded. But he said: "Turkmenistan is prepared to supply the required volumes of its gas to any customer at the border."
He added: "Transit is the customer’s responsibility."
Tajikistan itself produces no more than 1.5 million cubic metres of gas every month. Toronto-listed Tethys Petroleum and Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom are drilling in the country. (Additional reporting by Marat Gurt in Ashgabat; writing by Robin Paxton; editing by James Jukwey)