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Kyrgyzstan: CIS Leaders Focus On Afghanistan During Security Summit

Problems in Afghanistan topped the list of agenda items at a security meeting today in Bishkek of six leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States. RFE/RL's Bruce Pannier reports that the six are concerned by recent advances by the Taliban militia and the potential for a huge wave of refugees to spill over the Afghan border into Tajikistan.

Prague, 11 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A summit of leaders from the six CIS Collective Security Treaty countries has ended in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek with a collective push to resolve problems in nearby Afghanistan.

The presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Belarus, and Armenia issued a joint statement calling on the United Nations to hold a conference on Afghanistan. They also signed two agreements setting a framework for joint military action and pledging support for each other in the event of a security crisis.

The six are concerned by a recent advance by the Afghan Taliban militia near the Tajik border. That advance has sent thousands of refugees to the border area.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the talks and warned of the consequences should fighting in Afghanistan continue.

"We consider that now, when there is a threat of large numbers of refugees escaping from Afghanistan to the CIS countries, and first of all to Tajikistan, that the international community should direct its attention to the situation, which could lead to huge humanitarian problems."

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov indicated he would also welcome help in resolving the Afghan crisis as it is his country which suffers most among the CIS states.

"We also asked all countries for technical help to reinforce our southern borders because Russian and Tajik border guards shouldn't be the only ones defending the borders. We are a buffer zone and we defend all CIS countries."

In addition to serving as a front line against drug traffickers and the Taliban, Tajikistan finds itself guarding against local religious extremists. The so-called Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU, has invaded southern Kyrgyzstan and attacked troops in Uzbekistan two years in a row. The Uzbek and Kyrgyz governments say the IMU has bases in Tajikistan and that IMU fighters are training in Afghanistan. Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan say these fighters cross through Tajikistan to stage their attacks.

The defense and foreign ministers of the six countries also met and discussed prospects for joint military cooperation. The ministers stopped short of calling for integrated units among the treaty countries, but they did promise support for individual treaty-member nations should they encounter a serious security threat.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka distanced himself somewhat from that commitment. He said his country would send military and technical support if needed but would not send troops abroad:

"I am saying absolutely clearly and publicly that we are not going to send our guys anywhere. Today, we made it clear, after having made a preliminary agreement in Minsk, that each state that signs the collective security treaty must take care of its own zone of responsibility."

Our correspondent reports that the one-day summit did go further than previous summits in pledging mutual support in the face of what they all perceive as a growing security problem. But in the end, it appears individual members can expect to receive only technical and moral support and not much in the way of actual combat troops.