Kashmir, Chechnya to dominate Islamic conference
25 June 2000
The Times of India
KUALA LUMPUR: Foreign ministers and senior officials from Muslim countries began arriving Monday in Kuala Lumpur for a four-day conference expected to discuss Kashmir, Chechnya and the southern Philippines. The meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which begins Tuesday, will also debate ways to counter Western stereotypes that brand Islamic nations as backward and in constant conflict, organizers say. Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar has said the 56-nation body would adopt resolutions on Kashmir and Chechnya. ''The resolution on Chechnya will call for the OIC recognition of the sovereignty of Russia over the state of Chechnya, but for the conflict there to be resolved through peaceful means,'' he said. On Kashmir, the conference is focused on the escalation of hostilities between India, which is not represented at the meeting, and Pakistan, an OIC member. Both are armed with nuclear weapons. The insurgency in the southern Philippines, which caught world attention after a kidnapping of foreign tourists and workers from the Malaysian diving resort of Sipadan, will also figure in conference deliberations. One hostage, a Malaysian, was released over the weekend by rebels of the Abu Sayyaf group, which is demanding independence of the Muslim-dominated region from the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines. The rebels are still holding three Germans, two French, two Finns, two South Africans, a Lebanese, eight other Malaysians and two Filipinos they seized April 23 from Sipadan and brought to Jolo island in the Philippines. A committee comprising Somalia, Senegal, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia would be set up to seek a peaceful settlement of the insurgency in the Philippine province of Mindanao, Syed Hamid said. A representative of the less-radical Moro Islamic Liberation Front said the Muslims in Mindanao, who call themselves Bangsamoro, depended on the OIC for help. ''This OIC meeting is crucial for an end to the struggle of the Bangsamoro people,'' he was quoted as saying by The Star newspaper Monday. The meeting will be opened by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has used such forums to attack the West and criticize globalization and will be seeking, as host, to burnish his Islamic credentials. Mahathir''s ruling UMNO lost ground in parliamentary elections last year to an opposition party that aims to impose Islamic rule over Muslim Malays, the nation''s largest ethnic group. Mahathir''s party has traditionally represented their interests. Foreign Minister Syed Hamid has told reporters the meeting would discuss Western stereotypes of Muslims that ''always portrayed a negative picture ... terrorism, poverty and backwardness.'' The OIC was created by Muslim leaders in Rabat, Morocco, in 1969 to help pool resources for development and speak on Muslim interests. Apart from its Asian, African and European members, the Kuala Lumpur meeting will have four observer states, including Bosnia-Herzegovina and Thailand, where Muslims are a minority. Representatives from the United Nations, the Arab League, and the Organization of African Unity are expected to attend.