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Russia Urges CIS Countries to Increase Anti-Terror Cooperation - 2002-11-20

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov is urging countries of the former Soviet Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), to increase cooperation in fighting terrorism. Mr. Ivanov issued the appeal at a CIS defense ministers meeting Wednesday in Moscow.

Defense Minister Ivanov told his CIS counterparts there is a growing need to cooperate more closely in the global fight against terrorism.

In particular, the Russian defense minister said Moscow would like to see the CIS nations conduct an inventory of their Soviet-made air defense missiles, including a type of shoulder-fired missile known as the Igla.

In remarks broadcast on Russian television, Mr. Ivanov revealed that several Igla missiles have been recovered in Chechnya, during a recent Russian military operation.

Mr. Ivanov says it is not known how the missiles got to the breakaway southern Russian Republic. But Moscow hopes that an inventory by the CIS and Baltic nations will point toward the source of the weapons.

Recently, Chechen fighters have shot down several Russian military helicopters using shoulder-fired missiles, including the downing in August of a huge military transport helicopter that killed more than 100 Russians.

With the Russian military fighting rampant corruption and arms theft, some news reports have speculated Chechen rebels might have bought the weapons from Russian arsenals.

Russian officials deny the allegations, saying other former Soviet Republics are the likely source.

Mr. Ivanov says the priority is to ensure such weapons do not fall into "terrorist hands."

Russian forces have been fighting Chechen separatists on and off since late 1994.

The CIS defense ministers also discussed the creation of a joint defense concept for the organization by 2010.

The ministers are meeting under the Collective Security Treaty, which was signed shortly after the Soviet Union's collapse. The treaty retains military and security cooperation among the newly independent former Soviet states.

Last year, the treaty's six participants Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan - agreed to set up a joint rapid reaction force for Central Asia, which borders Afghanistan.

According to Russian media, the ministers approved measures aimed at strengthening that force to meet new security challenges and threats, following last month's hostage crisis at a Moscow theater taken over by heavily-armed Chechen rebels.