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Yeltsin Urges Closer CIS Ties But Without Return To Past

Moscow, Jan. 19 (RFE/RL) --- Russian President Boris Yeltsin opened a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Moscow today, saying his country's wish for closer integration has nothing to do with imperial ambitions.

Yeltsin, quoted by Interfax news agency, described integration as "a free choice," which preserves sovereignty and independence. He also called for closer economic cooperation and vowed there would be no return to the past.

Yeltsin, who was unanimously re-elected chairman of the CIS today, said Commonwealth members had to boost collective security to stand against the military potential of NATO and the United States. He said it was "virtually impossible" for Commonwealth members to look after national security on their own.

Eight CIS members have joined the Commonwealth's collective security pact. Some outside the pact, like Ukraine, have denounced any move toward military alliance.

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev circulated a statement to summit participants condemning calls by various politicians to restore the Soviet Union. The statement said restoration could only be accomplished by force and that any such attempts would undermine the stability and sovereignty of CIS member states.

Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka spoke out against debating the statement. He said it was not in line with what he called "the spirit of relations" in the CIS.

Commonwealth leaders also decided to extend the mandate of CIS peacekeepers in Tajikistan until June 30. The peacekeepers, who are mostly Russian, are guarding Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan.