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Pope Appeals for 'Peaceful Negotiations' to Resolve Conflicts - 2001-09-22

Pope John Paul II has called for "peaceful negotiations and dialogue" to resolve conflicts. The Roman Catholic church leader made the appeal at the start of a visit to the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.

Upon arriving in the capital city of Kazakhstan, the pope said differences should not be resolved by force of arms. It was an apparent reference to a possible military operation against Kasakhstan's neighbor, Afghanistan, led by the United States to hunt down alleged terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

Osama bin Laden is the prime suspect in recent attacks in the United States and he is believed to be in Afghanistan where he has long been given shelter by the ruling Taleban who control most of the country. The Vatican decided to proceed with the pope's long-planned visit to Kazakhstan in spite of increased tension in the region.

The 81-year-old pontiff was greeted on his arrival by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and other top officials, amid tight security.

On Sunday the pope will lead an outdoor mass in the capital, Astana.

Catholics are a minority in the republic of about 15 million people, but they still make up one of the largest Catholic groups in the former Soviet Union. Most are descendants of the Germans, Ukrainians, and Poles who were deported to Central Asia when Josef Stalin ruled the Soviet Union.

Many Catholics including priests and nuns were imprisoned in notorious gulag prison camps located in the remote desert of northern Kazakhstan.

After his visit the pope will travel to Armenia to celebrate the 1700th anniversary of that country's adoption of Christianity as a state religion.