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Sunday, 21 October, 2001, 23:17 GMT 00:17 UK
Turkic countries pledge Afghan aid
Uzbek-Afghan border
Aid could be brought in via Uzbekistan
Turkey plans to send an aid convoy jointly with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to Afghanistan.

The Turkish Foreign Minister, Ismail Cem, said Azerbaijan had also backed a Turkish plan to hold an international conference in Istanbul between the European Union and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC). He was speaking after talks in the Azeri capital Baku with President Haidar Aliyev.

We have to make sure that our brothers, the Afghan people, emerge from this struggle without being hurt. We have to do everything possible for the Afghan people

Ismail Cem
He said the two organisations should work together to prevent the US campaign from degenerating into a clash between cultures.

Mr Cem is now in Turkmenistan, and is due in Uzbekistan on Monday.

His tour of Central Asia coincides with that of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been holding meetings in Tajikistan with President Emomali Rahmonov to discuss a regional strategy for Afghanistan.

The Russian Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, is also in Tajikistan for talks with the Afghan opposition Northern Alliance.

Prominent role

Mr Cem's two-day trip follows Turkey's suggestion last week that its troops might play a leading role in peacekeeping in Afghanistan.

"We have to make sure that our brothers, the Afghan people, emerge from this struggle without being hurt. We have to do everything possible for the Afghan people," he said.

BBC Ankara correspondent Firdevs Robinson says that as the focus of the debate moves towards nation-building in Afghanistan, Turkey seems to be stepping into the forefront of the international coalition.

Nato's only Muslim member state has already opened its airspace and bases to the United States and offered to train Afghan opposition forces.

The Turkish Parliament gave wide powers to the government to send troops abroad, but Turkey has been reluctant to get involved in combat.

'Turkey must decide'

But our correspondent says that Turkey looks more comfortable with the new role it may be asked to play.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's visit last week put Turkey on the spot, talking about the pivotal role Turkey would have but not specifying what this would be. "It is up to Turkey to decide what it might do," he said.

Mr Cem sees this as a peacekeeping function in regions where there is no fighting, presumably in areas where the Northern Alliance is in control.

Turkey has close contacts with Afghan opposition commander General Rashid Dostum and provides financial and military support to his forces.

But it also supports the efforts of the UN general secretary's special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, to help negotiate an international force under the UN umbrella.

Mr Brahimi is also discussing the formula for a broad-based government in post-Taleban Afghanistan.

See also:

22 Sep 01 | Europe
Turkey opens airspace to US
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