LUXEMBOURG (Reuters)–The Caucasus republics of Armenia–Georgia and Azerbaijan voiced concern on Tuesday that the Afghan war had diverted the world’s attention from potentially-explosive conflicts in their own area.
The energy-rich region–strategically located between Turkey–Iran–Russia and the Central Asian states adjacent to Afghanistan–has been fractured by ethnic conflicts since the break-up of the Soviet Union.
"Al Qaeda is not the only evil embodiment of terrorism," said Georgian Foreign Minister Irakly Menagarishvili–referring to the organization of Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden–main suspect in the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Azeri Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliyev told Reuters: "The great powers should devote more attention to our region."
The ministers and their Armenian counterpart Vardan Oskanian were in Luxembourg for talks with European Union officials about their regional conflicts and the global fight against terrorism.
Despite pledges to boost bilateral and regional economic and political ties–long-running tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan and between Georgia and Russia were clearly visible.
Armenia’s Oskanian accused Azerbaijan of exploiting the current fears of international terrorism to block progress on their decade-old territorial dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh.
"We are concerned about the exploitation by our adversaries–especially Azerbaijan–of the terrorism issue and trying to put the Karabakh conflict in that context…in the hope of gaining the sympathy of the international community," he said.
"That is wrong and could lead down a very dangerous path… For Azerbaijan it is dangerous because it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy," he told reporters.
Last week–Azeri President Haydar Aliyev said his country could go to war with Armenia over Karabakh if Europe did not take a stand against the Armenia’s.
Georgia’s Menagarishvili–whose beleaguered government is battling separatists in its Abkhazia region–accused Russia of exploiting the Afghan situation to press its own interests.
"We have justified doubts that powerful forces in the Russian leadership are trying to use developmen’s of the war in their best interests–as they define them," he told reporters.
The 15-nation EU–represented by current president Belgium–echoed his concern over recent incidents involving the violation of Georgian airspace and air strikes against Georgia–which Tbilisi has blamed on Russia. "Both Georgia and the EU express their grave concern over the violation of Georgian airspace and the air strikes in Georgia. We want the incursions to stop," Belgian Deputy Foreign Minister Annemie Neyts told a joint news conference.
She declined to name Russia as the alleged aggressor. Moscow accuses Georgia of sheltering rebels from the adjacent breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya–a charge Tbilisi rejects.
The EU urged Georgia to tackle rampant corruption–pressed Armenia to close down its Medzamor nuclear plant and expressed concern about press freedoms in Azerbaijan.
Asked whether the three Caucasus republics might one day realize their dream of joining the EU–Neyts said: "My personal answer is that–ultimately–yes they should…but that would be in the long-term–if not the very long-term."