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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Central Asia Considers Joint Action Against Terror

Central Asia’s main security group, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), is working on rules to allow joint action against terrorist threats to member states, its secretary general said on June 6.

Zhang Deguang said the group did not interfere in the domestic affairs of members which face threats from insurgents, but added it was working on rules that could allow for action against "terrorist" and extremist threats to member countries China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

"We must strictly abide by the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs, but that is not equivalent to saying that we can’t adopt joint forces and operations in jointly attacking terrorist forces," he said.

The SCO was now developing rules to authorize such action, Zhang told a news briefing in Beijing ahead of an SCO leaders’ summit in Shanghai next week.

He said leaders from observer countries -- Mongolia, Pakistan, India and Iran -- would also attend, but did not specify who they would be.

SCO members are divided by mutual distrust, but their authoritarian governments have a shared fear of threats from domestic opponents, some of whom embrace Islamic extremism or violence.

Last year, Uzbek President Islam Karimov cracked down harshly against protesters pushing for his removal, prompting criticism from international human rights groups and Washington.

Zhang said the clash showed that "extremist forces" aiming to impose theocratic rule in the region remained a real threat.

The SCO would hold "anti-terrorist" exercises in Moscow next year. He also said that the Shanghai meeting would probably issue a joint communiqué on "information security", he added.

Zhang declined to specify what that document addressed, apart from saying that it included Internet security.

Some U.S. officials have said the SCO is being used by China and Russia to undermine American influence in Central Asia.

Zhang said the SCO was an "open" organization that did not seek confrontation with other countries, including the United States, but added that U.S. military bases in the region should be removable props in Washington’s war on terrorism.

Zhang deflected questions about Iraq, with its bloody turmoil, and Iran’s confrontation with Washington and Western Europe over its nuclear ambitions.

He said Iraq’s regional implications were not in the SCO’s purview. And he said Iran was entitled to observer status at the Shanghai meeting, despite Washington’s claims that Tehran supports terrorists and nurses hopes of making nuclear weapons.

"We couldn’t accept observer countries that supported terrorism," he said. "I don’t see any contradiction between peaceful resolution of the (Iran nuclear issue) and Iran’s participation," he said.
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