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Belarus: Five CIS Countries Approve Single Economic Group

Minsk, 1 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A two-day summit bringing together the presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers of the 12-member Commonwealth of Independent States opened in Minsk yesterday. Five of the CIS countries -- which up to now have been loosely grouped in a customs union -- formally ratified the creation of a single economic group which will henceforth be known as the Eurasian Economic Community. The Eurasian Economic Community includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Belarus.

CIS foreign ministers approved the extension -- by another six months of the mandate of Russian-led peacekeepers on the demarcation line between Georgia and its breakaway republic of Abkhazia.

Other questions of regional security and cooperation were taken up on the sidelines, within smaller regional sub-groups, as Russian President Vladimir Putin met the Caucasus presidents in two separate sessions.

Unfortunately, discussions took place behind closed doors at the residence of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka with access barred to all but a few handpicked state media journalists. No communique informing of any progress on resolving the region's problems was issued.

The CIS presidents are due to hold a news conference at the close of the summit later this afternoon.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement saying Moscow is ready to step up its peace efforts in the troubled Caucasus region.

He made the remark yesterday in Minsk after meeting with the presidents of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. The so-called "Grand Caucasus Four" group, comprising Putin, Georgia's Eduard Shevardnadze, Azerbaijan's Heidar Aliev, and Armenia's Robert Kocharian met on the sidelines of a CIS summit.

Interfax news agency quoted Putin as saying that Russia would focus on mediating in the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.