The Guardian 20 July, 2005

Asian nations pursue base closures

Marilyn Bechtel

The Shanghai Cooperation Association (SCO) China, Russia and the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrghizstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan has fired a diplomatic shot across the bow of the Bush administration's plans to keep bases in Central Asia.

The SCO, meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, said in a declaration that while it had supported counter- terror activities in Afghanistan, including use of base facilities, its member countries now "regard it as essential that the relevant members of the anti-terrorist coalition set final deadlines for the temporary use of said infrastructure facilities and for the presence of military contingents of the member countries".

The United States has two major bases in the region: Manas in Kyrghizstan and Khanabad in Uzbekistan. About 3000 NATO troops have been stationed at Manas, while some 1300 US military personnel are based at Khanabad. German troops are stationed at Termez, on the Uzbek-Afghan border, while France uses a military airfield in Tajikistan.

The SCO also called on the international community to create a new security concept based on mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination. It said a fair and rational world order should be based on strengthened mutual trust and good-neighbourliness and on genuine partnership free of any claims to monopoly or dominance in world affairs. "The people of each country have the right to choose their own road of development", the statement said.

Initiated in the mid-1990s to promote cooperation in resolving border issues, the SCO was formalised in 2001. Mongolia was accepted as an observer in 2004, and observer status was extended to India, Iran and Pakistan at this year's summit.

Observers noted that with these additions, the SCO now embraces almost half the world's population. The next summit is to take place in China in 2006.

People's Weekly World

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