Toronto Star 1999-11-17

A summit on Turkey's ruins

Chechnya on agenda as quaking country hosts heads of state

By Allan Thompson - Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau

ISTANBUL, Turkey - A summit on European security that begins here tomorrow will be dominated by debate over Russia's military campaign in Chechnya and the aftershock of two devastating earthquakes in this country.

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and more than 50 other world leaders have gathered in this historic city where east meets west for a gathering of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the OSCE.

The two days of meetings were supposed to seal a new charter on European security and an updated treaty on conventional weapons across the continent. But this agenda may well be sidetracked by developments in Chechnya.

The mood will be further dampened by the mounting death toll from last week's earthquake centred in Duzce - a crippling blow after the massive Aug. 17 quake at Izmit that claimed 17,000 lives and caused massive damage.

Yugoslavia yesterday protested at not being invited to the summit, Reuters reports.

The country was suspended from the group in 1992 following tough international sanctions imposed over its involvement in the Croatian and Bosnian wars.

Chrétien arrived in Istanbul last night after a 10-day tour of Africa with stops in Senegal, Nigeria and Durban, South Africa, where the Commonwealth summit was held.

Today, he will travel by helicopter to parts of Turkey hardest hit by the Aug. 17 disaster, and to break ground for a new school for 240 children being built with $125,000 (Cdn.) in funding from the Canadian International Development Agency.

But the main event will be the two-day OSCE summit, to be attended by U.S. President Bill Clinton, French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and reportedly Russia's President Boris Yeltsin.

``I suspect that Chechnya will dominate the meeting Thursday and Friday, no doubt about it,'' Chrétien told reporters before leaving Africa.

But other than that, Chrétien had little to say on the subject and has failed to articulate a clear Canadian position on the Russian offensive that critics say has killed hundreds of civilians.

The OSCE is a meeting place for NATO countries, former members of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, plus some Asian countries and observers from the Mediterranean.

The organization had its origins in the Helsinki talks that began in the early 1970s and later spawned the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, a series of meetings held to reduce Cold War tensions.

With the end of the Cold War, the security conference became a permanent institution and held its first summit of leaders in Paris in 1990.

The group is primarily concerned with conflict prevention, security and human rights and has missions in a host of European and Central Asian countries, including Macedonia, Georgia, Moldova, Tajikistan and Bosnia, as well as in Kosovo.

This summit is expected to accept an updated version of the treaty on conventional forces in Europe, which has not been changed since the end of the Cold War.

While Russia has been agitating for an overhaul of the treaty, Canadian officials said Russia is currently in breach of the agreement because of the military hardware it has deployed in Chechnya.

``The treaty is being violated right now by Russia, big time,'' one Canadian official said.

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