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Saturday, 6 July, 2002, 23:38 GMT 00:38 UK
Afghan heroin threat alarms Central Asia
The five presidents
Informality is the order of the day at the summit
The presidents of Russia and four Central Asian states have begun a summit in Kazakhstan with calls for more active involvement in helping rebuild Afghanistan.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said they were concerned at reports of an expected bumper harvest of opium poppies there and continued activity by the ousted Taleban movement.

Central Asia's presidents
Uzbekistan - Islam Karimov
Kazakhstan - Nursultan Nazarbayev
Turkmenistan - Saparmyrat Niyazov
Tajikistan - Emomali Rahmonov
Kyrgyzstan - Askar Akayev

But he added that the focus of the two-day talks, which opened in the Caspian port of Aktau on Saturday, was the economic and political ties between Russia and the ex-Soviet Central Asian states.

Turkmenistan is the only state in the region not to send its President, Saparmyrat Niyazov, to the meeting, which is being portrayed as an informal gathering and is due to shift to a sea resort on Sunday.

"Regrettably our friend Niyazov did not come," the Kazakh leader told reports after the first day of talks.

"Well, it's his decision, although it was much closer for him than for everybody else."

On Afghanistan, he said that the Central Asian states would be keeping close security contacts given the use of the region by drug-smugglers as a route for heroin.

This year's crop of poppies was expected to be "unusually rich", he said.

Oil deal

Mr Nazarbayev described an agreement between Kazakhstan and Russia on cooperation in the Caspian Sea, which is rich in oil and gas, as a model for other states.

"We have fully resolved all issues in the northern Caspian affecting Russia and Kazakhstan, to the benefit of both states," he said.

Cooperation in the oil and gas industry will also figure highly at the talks, a senior Russian presidential official said.

He added that Saturday's initial meeting had discussed future co-operation on both energy production and pipelines.

Russian interests

Russia's President Vladimir Putin was in Kazakhstan in June for an Asia-wide summit on security, at which he tried to mediate between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir crisis.

Russia maintains strong interests in Central Asia since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

There is a large ethnic Russian population in Kazakhstan and Moscow keeps a strong military presence in Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan.

Heavily reliant on the export of its own oil and gas, Russia is also keenly interested in the Central Asian energy sector.

Since 11 September and the war in Afghanistan, the United States and other Western states have established military presences in the relatively secular Muslim states of Central Asia.

Media move

On Saturday, Mr Putin introduced the new chairman of the Mir TV and radio company to the Central Asian leaders.

Viktor Senin's Russian-based company was set up to broadcast to the Commonwealth of Independent States.

After the talks, the leaders left for the Caspian resort of Kenderli, 240 km (150 miles) from Aktau, where they will resume talks on Sunday.

See also:

05 Jun 02 | Europe
30 May 02 | South Asia
15 May 02 | Business
02 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
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