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Central Asian leaders declare support for independent and peaceful Afghanistan after talks with US Secretary of State

Five Central Asian states have issued a joint communique following talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry. They called for an independent and peaceful Afghanistan

In a statement released on Sunday, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan declared their support for Afghanistan, amid a resurgence in violence by Taliban fighters in recent months.

The joint communique was released as part of regional talks attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry in the ancient city of Samarkand in Uzbekistan.

Kerry is currently on a tour of Central Asia.

The statement said the development of Afghanistan as an independent, peaceful state was important for the security and stability of the entire region.

Threat widens

Central Asian foreign ministers declared they would increase cooperation and counter "trans-boundary" threats and challenges such as terrorism, a reference to the Taliban and other Islamist militant groups.

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The renewed US focus on Central Asia coincides with warnings from Russian officials about the danger of self-declared "Islamic State" (IS) militants infiltrating the region from Afghanistan, accompanied by hints that Moscow will respond by beefing up its military presence.

Since the collapse of Communism, the five former Soviet republics have tried to maintain a balance between their relations with Moscow, while building new partnerships with the US and China.

Human rights raised

Although not top of the agenda, Kerry was expected to urge Central Asian leaders to tackle human rights issues. Most of the former Soviet republics are among the world's most repressive governments, with poor rights records.

The joint communique after the meeting said the states taking part were committed to improving human rights.

Kerry also met Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov in a rare high-level US encounter with an autocratic ruler often criticized for his human rights record.

The landlocked country, which has the fourth largest gold deposits in the world, has also been a reliable strategic partner providing logistical support for the US-led military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan.

mm/jm (AFP, Reuters)

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