Demirel in Georgia Urges Help for Region

TBILISI (Reuters)–Turkish President Suleyman Demirel said on Saturday the turbulent Caucasus region needed Western security guarantees and greater attention from the international community.

"A stability pact for the Caucasus region has to be worked out–as it was for the Balkans," Demirel told a joint news conference with Georgia’s President Eduard Shevardnadze.

The Turkish leader did not explain what sort of pact he had in mind–but was careful to point out that it would not extend to Russia’s breakaway province of Chechnya.

"This issue (Chechnya) will remain outside the framework of the pact," he said.

Demirel was in the Georgian capital Tbilisi for a two-day official visit to discuss economic cooperation–energy projects and the wider situation in the Caucasus region–shaken by four months of fighting between Chechen rebels and Russian troops.

"Stability and peace in the Caucasus should be under European guarantees because this is important not only for Georgia and other countries of this region–but for their neighbors," Demirel said.

Georgia faces its own separatist pressures–notably in its Black Sea province of Abkhazia–while neighbors Armenia and Azerbaijan have no diplomatic relations because of their long-running dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Demirel said the Caucasus needed the kind of attention from the international community that the Balkans had often received. Western countries sealed a security pact with Balkan states after last year’s Kosovo conflict.

"These two regions have much in common. Our main goal is to force civilized countries to pay more attention to the Caucasus region," said Demirel. Turkey–a NATO member and aspiring member of the European Union–spans the Balkan and Caucasus regions.

Demirel said Turkey wanted to see a peaceful resolution of the Chechen issue.

Many Turks strongly oppose Moscow’s military campaign against their fellow Moslems in Chechnya. Moscow says the campaign is aimed at crushing Islamic militants it has accused of terrorist attacks across Russia.


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