Security alliances led by Russia, China link up

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DUSHANBE, Oct 5 (Reuters) A Russia-led defence alliance signed an agreement today to link up with a China-headed security body, but both sides denied they were challenging the Western alliance, NATO.

The agreement, signed in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, links the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), to the Collective Security Treaty (CST), an alliance grouping seven former Soviet states including Russia.

''The memorandum will allow us to broaden cooperation between our similar organisations in security issues, in fighting crime and illegal drug traffic,'' SCO General Secretary Bolat Nurgaliyev said.

CST general secretary Nikolai Bordyuzha said confronting the West was not in the plans of the sister groups.

''We have no plans to compete with NATO,'' he said. ''On the contrary, we are striving to cooperate with NATO.'' The agreement was signed on the margins of a regular summit of leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose confederation of former Soviet states, excluding the Baltic republics.

China's fast-growing economy is hungry for energy and Beijing has been competing with Europe and the United States for supplies from Russia and Central Asia, both rich in oil and gas.

Earlier this year, soldiers from China, Russia and Central Asia took part in joint military exercises, held under the auspices of the six-member SCO.

The exercises, the biggest yet held by the group, led to fears in the West of the emergence of a possible ''Warsaw Pact 2'', or successor to the Cold-War communist military alliance.

Although the membership of the two groups overlaps to some degree, the move is a further demonstration of China and Russia's determination to bolster security links with each other and with the vast, strategic Central Asian region.

Russia, annoyed by what it sees as West's attempts to end its influence in ex-Soviet states, is alarmed by moves in Western capitals to woo Central Asian leaders.

REUTERS JK DS1630

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