- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2005

ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Leaders of a six-nation security bloc led by Beijing and Moscow called yesterday for a deadline to be set for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

At a summit, the presidents of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) — which includes Russia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and China — also signed a declaration calling for the closure of air bases used by the United States in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

“Considering that the active phase of the military anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan has finished, member states … consider it essential that the relevant participants in the anti-terrorist coalition set deadlines on the temporary use” of bases in the SCO area, according to the declaration.

It also included a call for “non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states,” seemingly a swipe at growing Western influence in Central Asia, which Moscow long has considered its sphere of influence.

“This declaration calls for templates and standards not to be imposed by force, or by the threat of force,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said: “There should be no place for interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.”

The SCO summit marks the first such gathering since popular protests toppled Askar Akayev’s regime in Kyrgyzstan in March and a military crackdown in Uzbekistan in May in which hundreds are thought to have died.

The leaders’ declaration reflects repeated complaints by leaders such as Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who have suggested that the West was behind uprisings in former Soviet republics in the last two years — Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

Mr. Karimov yesterday thanked the leaders of Russia and China for recent support, while saying that outside forces were threatening to “hijack stability and impose their model of development” on Central Asia.

The demand for deadlines on the closure of the bases comes despite a recent assurance made by Kyrgyz interim President Kurmanbek Bakiyev that his country would honor existing agreements on maintaining foreign bases in the country.

It reflects an ongoing rivalry between Washington and Moscow over their countries’ respective roles in the former Soviet Union, as the United States has been pressuring Russia to withdraw leftover bases from Georgia.

With no word on Russian military bases located in both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, yesterday’s meeting confirmed the impression of close ties between Mr. Putin and Mr. Bakiyev, who is tipped to win a presidential vote Sunday.

“I hope the outcome of the election results in a normalization of the situation,” Mr. Putin said, referring to recent unrest in Kyrgyzstan. “We are ready to maintain a special, friendly relationship with the Kyrgyz people.”

Yesterday’s declaration was also notable for a commitment by the SCO members not to harbor persons sought by each other’s security forces.

This appeared to fly in the face of recent Western criticism of Kyrgyzstan for handing back to Uzbek authorities four persons who fled the violence in eastern Uzbekistan in May.

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