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UN: Transition Countries Stress Security, Human Rights At Summit

Leaders of the former communist countries in transition who spoke at the Millennium Summit this week repeatedly stressed the need for the United Nations to serve more effectively as a guarantor of security. The more developed countries in the region cited the role of strengthening human rights as a foundation for security. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 11 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Central Asian leaders who spoke in New York this week shared common concerns over what they fear is an attempt by Afghanistan's Taliban regime to destabilize the region.

For heads of state from the South Caucasus, the concern was over simmering internal conflicts. Lingering disputes, they say, are preventing them from making the economic and political advances that will draw them closer to the West.

Further West, for the countries of central and eastern Europe, security was also a preoccupation due to recent wars in their vicinity. As Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said to a special Security Council session: "the Balkan knot is not yet untied."

But there was a realization from a number of countries in the region that the road to security begins by paying attention to human rights.

Czech President Vaclav Havel told a press conference on Friday that he was impressed by a general sense at the summit that countries are paying more attention to human rights.

"It seems that in the political sphere too we observe the prevalence of the awareness that there is one humanity and that we are all co-responsible for the state of the world, for the position of its citizens, for the measure of their rights and freedoms and of human dignity and observance of it."

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus said in his summit speech that he has seen this sense of co-responsibility increasingly at work in the improvement of relations in northeastern Europe. He said human rights should be the cornerstone of any new world structure. But he said coping with the past is still an important issue for millions, 10 years after the communists were swept from power.

"Central and Eastern Europe have to solve numerous issues which I refer to as 'divorce legacies.' In the process of disintegration of one dominant power and one ideology, thousands if not millions of people are waiting to be compensated for lost lives, health, or property."

The president of Lithuania's neighbor, Poland, also spoke of the legacy of communism. But President Aleksander Kwasniewski told reporters that he considers Poland as a model for how a country can transform itself socially, economically, and politically in 10 years.

"After the collapse of communism, after the collapse of some ideologies, we have more of a chance to reorganize and organize our political and social environment in a positive sense. We are closer to finding a good solution. "

Kwasniewski was chairman of one of four panels, each consisting of more than 30 countries, in which world leaders discussed some of the world's challenges behind closed doors. He said after the three-hour session, he was convinced that UN reforms are necessary to help enact reforms in conflict prevention and in bridging the gap between developed and underdeveloped nations.

Kwasniewski also reaffirmed Poland's support for UN peacekeeping operations, to which Poland contributes more than 1,000 troops and police. Other states from the region pledging to increase their support included Lithuania and Slovakia.

Meanwhile, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev spoke with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan about the formation of a Central Asian peacekeeping battalion which could participate in UN operations. Further details of such a battalion were not immediately known.

Ukrainian President Kuchma, speaking before the Security Council, called for the establishment of regional UN centers for conflict prevention to help the council in its work. Croatia's President Stipe Mesic told a press conference Friday that a rapid reaction force envisioned in a new plan to reform UN peacekeeping was essential to prevent conflicts such as those which broke out in the former Yugoslavia.

In the traumatized Balkans, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, to a lesser extent, have benefitted from UN assistance. Outgoing Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic cited the impact Mesic's government has had on easing the tensions in Bosnia.

"Recent developments in Croatia have shown how quickly things can change in the positive direction. We would like to see similar positive events with our neighbor to the east."

The neighbor to the east, Yugoslavia, has upcoming elections that may lead to a further easing of tensions in the region. But regional officials expect President Slobodan Milosevic to manipulate the elections. Yugoslavia, meanwhile, was one of three nations -- including Fiji and North Korea -- not represented at the Millennium Summit. The General Assembly does not recognize Yugoslavia as the successor state of the former socialist state of Yugoslavia.