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Kazakhstan: Almaty Conference Focuses On Terrorism

Terrorism dominated an Asian security conference held today in the Kazakh city of Almaty. Signatories from 16 countries agreed to a joint declaration affirming the international fight against terrorism. The document signaled out the particular dangers posed by separatism, a concern of several attendees.

Prague, 4 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The idea of holding an international Asian security conference was first voiced by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in 1992. His dream came true today as high-level representatives from 16 country gathered in the former Kazakh capital, Almaty.

Those taking part in the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) included host Kazakhstan as well as China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Israel, Egypt, Iran, Mongolia, Turkey, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Azerbaijan. The Palestinian Authority also sent delegates.

The conference was originally conceived as a way of promoting regional cooperation and economic growth. And host Nazarbaev said today he hoped participants would focus on ways of securing that growth. "This forum is extraordinarily important not only from the point of view of discussing today's political problems. It should also provide the necessary guarantees to ensure stable economic growth of our countries. Undoubtedly, we face extremely difficult tasks. Asia is very diverse, politically and economically," Nazarbaev said.

But, clearly, it was fighting terrorism that was on most participants' minds. Leaders signed an agreement called the Almaty Act, which commits them to unite efforts to fight terrorism.

The act specifically singled out separatism as one of the main threats. It bars signatories from backing separatist movements on the territory of other members.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin asked participants to help his country in the battle against what he called "separatists" who want to form an "Eastern Turkestan." This group is mainly the Muslim Uyghurs of China who Jiang said are in essence a terrorist group.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country is fighting a war against separatists in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, said the root causes of what he called "extremism" need to be addressed. "Today, speaking about the new global threats, we should not forget about their causes. And their causes are, among others, poverty, backwardness, and the growing gap between the developed and developing countries," Putin said.

But there was not complete agreement on the issue of separatism. Egypt's representative, Religious Affairs Minister Makhmound Hamdi Zaqzoug, for one, said there needed to be a distinction made between terrorism and the right of a people to resist occupation by a foreign power.

Participants also discussed the war in Afghanistan. Many, including Nazarbaev, praised the U.S.-led war to oust the Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorist elements that had been sheltering there.

Nazarbaev noted, however, that there are still difficult problems to resolve in Afghanistan. "It would be politically naive to think the problem of security in Afghanistan itself and the whole Central Asian region has been fully solved. The illegal trade of weapons is growing. Another new threat in Afghanistan and in the region is illegal migration, and what is alarming is that it has now merged with such negative developments as drug trafficking and extremism," Nazarbaev said.

Heads of state or government who attended included interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, as well as Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Iran was represented at a lower level after President Mohammad Khatami chose to remain at home to mark the 13th anniversary of the death of the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Uzbek President Islam Karimov also did not attend, sending the country's prime minister instead. None of the Middle East leaders attended.

Turkmenistan, as a recognized neutral state, did not take part at all.