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UN: Experts Call For Toughening Sanctions Regime Against Al-Qaeda, Taliban

A group of UN experts is calling for a new Security Council resolution toughening measures to block funding, travel, and arms for Al-Qaeda members and their associates. A new report issued by the group says the UN risks being marginalized in efforts to combat the terror network unless it strengthens efforts to compel states to crack down on support for the movement. It says Al-Qaeda has greatly expanded its influence in the past two years.

United Nations, 2 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A monitoring group formed by the UN Security Council is urging a new, more vigorous system to assure that member states are blocking aid to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The expert group released a report yesterday detailing the weaknesses of the current sanctions regime against Al-Qaeda. It recommends a new Security Council resolution providing more effective means to block financial and military support for the terrorist group and its associates.

The experts urged the Security Council to compel states to cooperate. It says that, to date, only 83 of the 191 UN member states have submitted reports to a Security Council committee charged with overseeing compliance with sanctions against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Many of those responding provided incomplete information.

The reports were mandated under a Security Council resolution passed in January. The chairman of the Security Council committee monitoring the sanctions, Ambassador Heraldo Munoz of Chile, indicated he would support a new resolution, possibly within the month, to improve compliance.

Munoz told reporters that a series of terrorist incidents around the world, especially in East Asia, highlight the difficulties in cutting off support for Al-Qaeda. The group, originally operating out of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, has expanded and diversified its operations, Munoz said.

"We are worried about the extension of Al-Qaeda not only to Asia but to other new theaters. And in that sense, it has become truly a global terrorist organization," Munoz said.

The UN report is consistent with the findings of other terrorism experts who say Al-Qaeda has become increasingly decentralized. In a number of new cases, it appears the group provides token assistance to local terror groups or serves more as an inspiration for attacks by other groups than as a direct participant.

The head of the UN expert group, Michael Chandler, told reporters that this new role for Al-Qaeda makes it especially difficult to contain.

"It's very widespread. It's diffuse, and that's why it's become people and groups tending to follow an ideology now perhaps, rather than just being a much more formal structured organization like it was -- or appeared to be -- two years ago, until more has been found out about it subsequently," Chandler said.

Chandler's group listed a series of recommendations to the Security Council to improve the efforts to foil Al-Qaeda. They include giving the monitoring group some investigative powers. It currently gathers information from country reports, media, and other open sources.

Another key recommendation would clarify the obligation of states to block assets other than bank accounts. The UN report said none of the countries submitting reports indicated it had frozen assets including businesses or property.

In addition, 11 of the reporting states, which had indicated the presence of Al-Qaeda-related cells in their countries, provided no information that any assets had been frozen. These countries include Russia, Iran, and Syria.

The UN expert group also recommends that states should impose special requirements to ensure that charities route their transactions through established banking systems. It says Al-Qaeda continues to rely heavily on charities to mask the movement of funds it receives, but that controlling such funds has become a very sensitive issue. It mentions, for example, that many of the charities that have been involved with Al-Qaeda have also funded humanitarian programs in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo, and Pakistan.

The report says there appears to be a fear of stigma by some states of acknowledging Al-Qaeda activity within their borders. This is especially true, it says, of Afghanistan's neighbors. In their reports, they either did not address the issue directly or asserted the nonexistence of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban within their borders.

Chandler addressed the issue at yesterday's news conference: "Some people are concerned that if they appear to be related or have Al-Qaeda-related activities or connections within their borders, this may frighten away tourists, it may frighten away investment and things like this."

Uzbekistan is the only neighbor of Afghanistan that has not submitted a report to the Security Council group. The country's UN ambassador, Alisher Vohidov, told RFE/RL that he is certain his government will make its report to the UN experts soon.

Vohidov said Uzbekistan has taken action to comply with the Security Council mandate on blocking funding, arms shipments, and travel related to Al-Qaeda and its associates.

"We have a very serious approach to this question, so this is why before submission of this report, we usually check not twice, not three times, many times all these questions," Vohidov said.

The Security Council's sanctions committee will travel today to Saudi Arabia, then Pakistan and Western Europe for a final round of information-gathering before reporting back to the full Security Council by the end of the month. Meanwhile, Munoz said, the committee will be sending out letters to the 107 countries that have failed to submit written reports.

Among the countries still to report to the Security Council committee are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Bosnia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Kyrgyzstan.