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Monday, November 20, 2006

Turkey and Central Asia Eye Closer Security Ties

Nov 20, 2006 - 6:33:09 AM

Turkey called on Central Asian states on Nov. 17 to form a united front with Ankara in fighting terrorism and cross-border crime.

Turkey, hosting a gathering of Turkic-speaking countries in its Mediterranean resort of Antalya, also pledged continued strong support for Muslim ally Azerbaijan in its long dispute with Armenia over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“The development and stability of the Eurasian region are threatened by international terrorism, religious fundamentalism, separatist and extremist currents, illegal migration and other organized crimes such as drug and weapons smuggling,” President Ahmet Necdet Sezer told his fellow leaders in televised remarks.

“We attach great importance to multi-level cooperation in the struggle with terrorism and on issues which pose a threat to the region’s development,” he said, adding that Turkish business should step up investment in energy-rich Central Asia.

Turkish firms are already active across the region, especially in construction, though Ankara has abandoned the ambitious hopes of building a pan-Turkic commonwealth that it nurtured in the early 1990s after the Soviet Union’s demise.

The presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan were in Antalya for the two-day summit.

But President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan stayed away in protest at Turkey’s support for a U.N. report critical of his autocratic rule, Turkish media said. Turkmenistan’s reclusive leader also did not show up, sending an envoy instead.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev called for more joint transport and communications projects to help bind together a vast, mostly under-developed and poor region that stretches from the Balkans to China’s western border.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev sought political support for his country’s efforts to regain Nagorno-Karabakh, controlled by Armenian separatists since armed conflict erupted in the early 1990s which killed an estimated 35,000 people.
A major pipeline linking Caspian Sea oil fields to world markets passes a few km from the conflict zone to Turkey.

Sezer made clear Ankara’s continued solidarity with Azerbaijan despite concerns that Turkey’s poor relations with Armenia — their shared border is closed due to the Karabakh dispute — could hurt its efforts to join the European Union.

“I want to stress our continued resolve to support fraternal Azerbaijan on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue,” Sezer said.
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