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International Organizations Strengthen Counter-Terrorism Efforts in Central Asia - 2004-09-08

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime have hosted a conference focussing on fighting terrorism and organized crime. Experts from more than a dozen organizations met to exchange ideas on increasing border security from Afghanistan through Central Asia to Europe.

Among the conference delegates were representatives from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization who are concerned with the fight against organized crime in Central Asia.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization includes China, Russia, and the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Its main headquarters is in Beijing.

Turkmenistan, which has a long border with Afghanistan, is not a member - preferring under its ruler Saparmurat Niayzov to follow a policy of so-called permanent neutrality.

Experts see strengthening borders in Central Asia as one of the first lines of defense in protecting Europe and countries like Iran from drug trafficking and organized crime.

The organization established a new counter-terrorism office this year in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, that is concerned with reducing ethnic and religious tensions in the region.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization Deputy Director Jenisbek Jumanbekov told VOA that Uzbekistan is a target for Islamic extremists.

"This is a religious movement, a fundamental radical movement which as we know from investigations conducted was responsible for the deadly blasts and terror attacks in March and April and the recent bombings of embassies in Uzbekistan," he said. "Their goal is to overthrow the government and establish their caliphate [Islamic state]."

In July, terrorists bombed the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Tashkent.

But radical Islamic groups have denied responsibility, saying they seek peaceful means to achieve their goals. Mr. Jumanbekov says groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan operate from outside the country.

"The recent court case, which involved 15 detained people, showed that most of them are of Uzbek origin but they have received training and help from al Qaida and other organizations who are mostly based on the territory of Pakistan," he said. "They have training camps there and that is where they get their training, support, and funding."

Mr. Jumanbekov says the terrorists moved to Pakistan after fleeing from Afghanistan with the fall of the Taleban.

This week courts in Uzbekistan hear evidence from another 16 detained for alleged terrorist activities. The suspects have confessed to charges of conspiracy and terrorism, but the United States is concerned by reports that prisoners were tortured. Mr. Jumanbekov says the fight against international terrorism must not violate human rights.