Caucasus Leaders Focus on Security

TRABIZON (RFE/RL–Combined Sources)–The presidents of Turkey–Georgia–and Azerbaijan held a second and final day of security talks today in the Turkish Black Sea city of Trabzon.

The conference is focusing on ways to fight terrorism and ensure the safety of regional energy projects.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze–who was at the talks with Azerbaijani President Haydar Aliyev and Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer–said yesterday the three countries should act to ensure the safety of a projected US-sponsored oil pipeline that would link the Azerbaijani capital Baku with Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. It would also traverse Georgia.

Turkish President Sezer said greater cooperation among the three states would enhance regional peace and security.

Separately–about 20 US soldiers arrived in Georgia yesterday to pave the way for antiterrorism training for the Georgian military. A Pentagon spokesman’said the troops are the first of about 150 to 200 American special-operations forces who will teach military tactics to Georgian soldiers and officials.

Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze said the arrival of US soldiers in Tbilisi yesterday is "according to plan." Tevzadze made the commen’s while preparing to depart later today for a visit to Washington. He didn’t give any details about his US visit or about the US forces in Georgia.

The US embassy in Tbilisi said the troops will be meeting with Georgian Defense Ministry officials over the next week to set up the training program. Pentagon spokesman Tim Blair said the training will start in about one month.

The program is aimed at helping Georgian forces battle terrorists–particularly Muslim extremists in the Pankisi Gorge near Georgia’s border with the breakaway Russian region of Chechnya.

Russian and Georgian officials say militants from Chechnya are based in the remote region. US officials say those fighters could be linked to Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

US military experts arrived in Georgia for what they call antiterrorism training of the Georgian army.

This is part of a US-led expedition to beef up its presence in the Caucasus under its general plan to fight international terrorism following the Sept. 11 attacks on the US.

Many analysts are weary of US interntions in the Caucasus–but the Georgian government has welcomed US presence on its soil.

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