Sun, Jun 25, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Uzbekistan rejoins Russia-led security pact

AP , MINSK, BELARUS

Uzbekistan on Friday rejoined a Russian-led security pact of ex-Soviet nations, another step by the authoritarian Central Asian state toward Moscow's orbit after the rupture of its ties with Washington.

Uzbekistan was one of the founding members of the Collective Security Treaty in 1992.

But in 1999, in an effort by Uzbek President Islam Karimov to keep his distance from Moscow, Uzbekistan quit the organization to join a rival regional body known as GUAM, which is seen as a counterweight to Russian interests.

Karimov told a summit of the six-nation security body in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, that Uzbekistan would resume full membership because it also belonged to a parallel ex-Soviet economic body.

"Uzbekistan having become a member of the Eurasian Economic Community cannot stop halfway, and so we have reinstated our membership in the Collective Security Treaty," he said.

Putin welcomed the decision, saying that from this moment, Uzbekistan was "a fully fledged member of our organization and will participate fully in its activities."

Since the violent crackdown on an uprising in Andijan in May last year, which prompted harsh US criticism, Karimov's regime has turned away from the West and switched its allegiance to Russia and China. Uzbekistan last year left GUAM, which now is dominated by pro-Western countries.

The Collective Security Treaty links Russia with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It is one of several overlapping organizations seen as means for Moscow to preserve its influence in its former Soviet backyard and to resist what it perceives as US efforts to expand its role in the region.

Earlier this month, at a summit of a separate Asian security body that links China, Russia and four Central Asian states, Karimov accused unnamed outside interests of sowing discord in the region and said the US-led forces in Afghanistan had proven ineffective in combatting the drug trade and improving security.

Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko -- dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by the US and other Western nations for his relentless crackdown on dissent -- has repeatedly accused the West of harboring aggressive intentions and sought to build closer economic and military ties with Russia and other ex-Soviet nations.

Belarus this week is hosting the largest ever joint military maneuvers with Russia, envisaging a joint response to an unnamed outside military threat.

Leaders of Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan on Friday also held a summit of their Eurasian Economic Community, focusing on plans to form a customs union of trade agreements.

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