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OSCE: Central Asian Leaders Stress Security

At the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Istanbul, the Central Asian presidents showed great interest in security, but not cooperation. RFE/RL's Bruce Pannier reports that while the Central Asians can agree on the threat, they cannot agree on how to combat it.

Prague, 19 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan came to the OSCE summit in Istanbul prepared to talk about security. But very little cooperation resulted from the mini-summit convened to discuss ways regional issues, especially how to fight the growing threat from the Islamic militants who have twice taken hostages in the region in the last few months.

The four leaders reportedly did not discuss any common plan to combat the militant threat. In fact, the Uzbek president and Kyrgyz president exhibited a cold attitude toward one another when they met. Uzbek President Islam Karimov said on Wednesday and again yesterday it is Kyrgyzstan's fault that some of the militants have reached Uzbekistan.

Rather than reaching their own regional agreement on security, the Central Asian presidents asked for security guarantees from the OSCE.

Uzbek President Karimov was the first of the Central Asian presidents to speak yesterday, and he set the tone in calling for an enhanced OSCE role.

"The OSCE should play a more active role in forming regional security systems in Central Asia."

Karimov suggested the OSCE should open a center to fight terrorism.

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev spoke with particular knowledge of the security threat -- it was on Kyrgyz territory that Islamic militants held hostages for weeks this summer. Akaev, too, favors an active OSCE presence as a deterrent.

"Kyrgyzstan became the front line in the confrontation with international terrorism when foreign armed bands invaded its territory last August and took hostages and began military actions against governmental forces. The conflict is over, the terrorists have been thrown back, and the hostages have been released alive and healthy. But there is still a possibility of a repetition. In connection with that, I think it is expedient to pay special attention to questions of combating international terrorism, to our joint efforts for eradication of this evil."

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev concurred, and added that regional security will require Russia's participation.

"We are concerned about terrorist acts in the biggest cities of Russia, and about the development of the situations in the Northern Caucasus and southern Kyrgyzstan. And we are agree that security in Europe is not attainable without the constructive participation of Russia in the process."

Nazarbaev may have a security problem in his own country. Tourists in southern Kazakhstan have seen armed men in uniforms prowling the hills not far from the border with Uzbekistan. Their appearance coincides with the spread of anti-Uzbek government literature in the same area.

The militants in Kyrgyzstan this summer were mainly citizens of Uzbekistan who are wanted by the authorities back home. They found a haven in eastern Tajikistan, near the border with Kyrgyzstan, which explains their appearance there this summer.

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov also spoke about regional security -- but he was as concerned by the problems posed by other countries as by the threat from Islamic militants. In a thinly veiled reference to neighboring Uzbekistan, which twice bombed Tajikistan during the militant incident in southern Kyrgyzstan, Rakhmonov said:

"We believe that in the course of establishing such cooperation, no single state of the organization or group of governments can be given an exclusive responsibility for everything. In order to maintain peace no one can look upon any part of the [regions included in the] OSCE as their particular sphere of influence."

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov was also in Istanbul, but he did not attend the regional mini-summit, sending his foreign minister instead. Niyazov's sole purpose for coming to Istanbul seems to have been to sign a deal with Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia to construct a natural-gas pipeline from Turkmenistan along the bottom of the Caspian Sea to the Caucasus and further to Turkey.

While asking for more OSCE help in security, the four presidents made it clear that they are not as welcoming of OSCE help in democracy-building. Kazakh President Nazarbaev has publicly criticized the OSCE for its criticisms of his re-election last January. The organization refused to send monitors to the presidential election after Nazarbaev's main rival was barred from running on a technicality. The OSCE did monitor Kazakhstan's elections to parliament last month and judged them flawed.

In Istanbul yesterday, Nazarbaev said the OSCE should not dictate to the Central Asian countries how they should make their way toward democracy.

"All of us are Asian countries within this organization and that is why I say they should not look at us in the same way Moscow looked at us years ago [when Kazakhstan was a Soviet republic]."

And Uzbek President Karimov, on the flight to Istanbul, told Uzbek radio that human rights could not be protected without a secure and stable state. In his words: "So what is the main aim of this organization [OSCE]? What should be its priority? In my opinion, the name of the organization says it all -- it is security. Cooperation on the basis of security."

Ultimately, the Central Asian leaders were asking that the OSCE help them in their security needs but leave them alone on human rights or democratic principles. Rather than using their mini-summit to come up with a regional response to security problems, they showed that they are more willing to ask for help from other countries than from each other.

(Yakub Turan and Bill Hasanov of the Uzbek Service, Naryn Idinov of the Kyrgyz Service, Merhat Sharipzhan of the Kazakh Service, and Salimjon Aioubov of the Tajik Service contributed to this report.)