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SCO Fails To Back Russia Over Georgia

The member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) have expressed grave concern over tensions in Georgia, but failed to give Moscow clear support in its standoff with the West.

While they backed "Russia's active role" in resolving the conflict in Georgia, the SCO member states stopped well short of recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia's independence.

In their final statement, dubbed the "Dushanbe Declaration," the heads of the member states expressed their concern about "recent tension over the South Ossetian issue" and called on all parties to solve the "existing problems" through dialogue and negotiation.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who is facing condemnation from the West over his country's recent military action in Georgia, turned to his Asian allies for support, saying, "The united position of SCO members will have international resonance" and send a serious signal to the West.

Medvedev condemned what he called "Georgia's criminal and irresponsible aggression against South Ossetia" and implied that Western states were trying "to turn black into white and justify this aggression."

Amid condemnation from the United States and European Union, Moscow this week recognized the two Georgian separatist regions' independence.

Separatism Problems

Some SCO members face their own problems with separatism and analysts say they would not want to embrace the precedent set by Russia in recognizing the independence of the two Georgian regions.

China, for example, faces separatism in both Xinjiang Province and Tibet, and has always been very anti-separatist.

The summit, which kicked off informally last night with a banquet, concludes today. It has involved a series of meetings among SCO members and observer states as well as special guests, like Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Karzai is set to meet later on August 28 with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who voiced criticism at the summit of NATO forces in Afghanistan, and Tajik President Imomali Rahmon, the summit host.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev suggested the SCO expand its cooperation with "European structures, including the EU."

"Today, we have a duty of further expanding the position of the SCO on the international scene, establishing contacts and expanding cooperation with European structures, including the EU and the OSCE, which have recently shown increasing interest in our region," Bakiev said.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov said the most important issue now is stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan, which has a strong impact on the entire region. Karimov said Russia, the United States, NATO and Afghanistan's neighbors could play a key role in bringing peace to Afghanistan and fighting extremism and drug trafficking in the country.

The SCO brings together Russia, China and four Central Asian countries -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan have observer status, while Afghanistan is a part of SCO contact group. Belarus had also sought observer status in the SCO group. Iran has unsuccessfully sought the full membership of the regional organization, which was originally founded as Shanghai Five group in 1996.

RFE/RL correspondent Farangis Najibullah and RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report

Shanghai Cooperation Organization Factbox

Shanghai Cooperation Organization
What Is It?
* China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan set the group up in Shanghai in 2001.
* It grew out of the Shanghai Five, which was founded in 1996 to demilitarize the border between China and the former Soviet Union.
* In 2004 and 2005, it accepted Mongolia, Iran, Pakistan, and India as observers.
* The member states occupy a territory of over 30 million square kilometers and have a population of 1.5 billion.

Strategic Significance
* An antiterrorism center was opened in Shanghai in 2003. Russia and China held their first joint military exercises, Peace Mission 2005, in August 2005.
* The group held joint military exercises in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in 2006 and in Russia in 2007.

Economic Significance
* Competition for Central Asian energy supplies has increased the level of interest in the organization.
* Uzbekistan signed a $600 million joint energy exploration deal with China in 2006.
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