KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 19 (AFP) - One hundred and fourteen nations begin a conference in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur Thursday, preparing to deliver a resounding 'No' to a US-led war on Iraq.
Most of the countries grouped in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) carry little clout of their own, but they hope their official voices will be heard alongside those of millions of ordinary people protesting the war around the world.
The NAM states are mostly poor and militarily weak, although two of them -- India and Pakistan -- are nuclear powers and another, North Korea, is believed to be able to produce nuclear weapons within months, if it doesn't have them already.
The others range from Afghanistan, with its new government installed courtesy of a US-led war, to Iraq itself, Washington's latest target in its military reaction to the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US.
In fact, the whole of George Bush's renowned "Axis of Evil" will be represented -- Iran, Iraq and North Korea.
Long-time foe from ideological battles past, Fidel Castro of Cuba, will also be there when the summit gets under way on Monday and Tuesday next week, after kicking off with meetings of senior officials and ministers beginning Thursday.
But most of the 114 nations are small players on the world stage, struggling countries on the fringes of power in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Recognising this, the host prime minister, Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad, said in a television interview ahead of the conference: "We have no military and financial strength but we can join the world movement to oppose war on moral grounds."
Mahathir acknowledged that the big powers rarely listened to the voice of NAM, but said they would now be forced to do so after millions of people -- many in developed countries -- took to the streets last weekend in anti-war protests.
He said one focus of the summit would be to drive home the point that big countries should not resort to military action to change a government they did not like.
"We do not agree that the government of a country not suitable to big countries be changed by military means through a pre-emptive strike. If this thing is allowed to happen, maybe other countries will also suffer the same fate in the future," he said.
However, it is not only a fear of the world being reshaped to its liking by the lone superpower that galvanises the incoming leader of the NAM, which was originally formed during the Cold War as an alternative to the Western and Eastern power blocs.
Mahathir, a Muslim, is a bitter critic of Islamic extremism and has supported the US-led war on terrorism, but he has warned repeatedly that an attack on Iraq would create more anger among Muslims and thus more recruits to terrorist ranks.
He made it clear that despite the myriad problems facing the developing world, such as globalisation, debt and HIV/AIDS, Iraq would dominate discussions at the NAM meeting.
While there will be some support for Washington, from countries such as the Philippines where US troops are helping the fight against Islamic guerrillas, Mahathir had no hesitation in predicting the outcome of the debate.
Asked what would be contained in the summit's final declaration, he replied: "Certainly it is about our anti-war stand."
That stand will likely be endorsed by a second meeting immediately after the NAM summit. Malaysia has called an "informal" meeting of members of the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference, most of which are also NAM states, for February 26.
NON-ALIGNED MOVEMENT: A FACTFILE
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 19 (AFP) - The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which holds its 13th summit in the Malaysian capital on February 24-25, groups 114 member states.
Originally conceived as an alternative to the Western and Eastern blocs during the Cold War, it now aims to represent the political and economic interests of developing countries.
The movement had its origins in the Asia-Africa Conference held in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955, which brought together leaders of 29 states, mostly former colonies, to discuss common concerns and to develop joint policies in international relations.
Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, along with Indonesia's Soekarno and Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, led the meeting, which examined the problems of resisting the pressures of the major powers, maintaining independence and opposing colonialism and neo-colonialism.
The first Conference of Non-Aligned Heads of State or Government, at which 25 countries were represented, was convened at Belgrade in September 1961, largely through the initiative of Yugoslavian President Tito.
Subsequent summits have been held in: Cairo 1964, Lusaka 1970, Algiers 1973, Colombo 1976, Havana 1979, New Delhi 1983, Harare 1986, Belgrade 1989, Jakarta 1992, Cartagena de Indias 1995, Durban 1998.
Issues such as globalisation, South-South and North-South co-operation, the debt crisis and international trade, investment flows and disarmament have been high on the movement's agenda.
The last few summits also saw issues such as transnational crime, international drug trafficking and HIV/AIDS being addressed.
The Kuala Lumpur summit is expected to be dominated by debate on a possible United States-led war on Iraq, which is a member of the movement.
Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Cuba, Cyprus, Democratic People's Rep of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine (PLO), Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Syria, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
NKOREA TO COME UNDER PRESSURE OVER NUKES AT NAM SUMMIT
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 19 (AFP) - North Korea will come under pressure to drop its nuclear weapons programme when it attends the upcoming summit of the 114-nation Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), host nation Malaysia indicated Wednesday
The issue would "definitely" be discussed and Malaysia would try to persuade North Korea to end its quest for nuclear capability, Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told a news conference.
"As far as NAM is concerned, I will be able to state Malaysia's stand: We think there should be a total ban on nuclear weapons," he said in reply to a question.
North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-Sun will represent Pyongyang at the NAM conference, which begins with preparatory meetings Thursday and culminates in a meeting of heads of government on Monday and Tuesday next week.
Along with North Korea, the other two legs of US President George Bush's "axis of evil" -- Iraq and Iran -- will also be present at the summit, which is expected to condemn any unilateral military action against Baghdad.
Earlier Wednesday, in an abrupt departure from its strident attacks of recent months, North Korea toned down its rhetoric over the nuclear crisis and stressed its goal of reforming its struggling economy.
North Korea also denied it was resorting to brinkmanship tactics and using the nuclear standoff as a means of seeking concessions in negotiations with Washington.
The statement followed North Korea's aggressive warning Tuesday that it was ready to pull out of the armistice agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War and has helped keep the peace for half a century on the Korean peninsula.
The crisis erupted in October after the United States accused North Korea of running a secret uranium-enrichment program and later cut off fuel aid to the energy-starved regime.
Pyongyang responded by expelling UN inspectors and reactivating a mothballed plant capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.
The case has been passed on to the UN Security Council which can impose an array of sanctions on North Korea, a move which Pyongyang says would be tantamount to a declaration of war.
The NAM was formed during the Cold War as an alternative to the Western and Eastern power blocs, and has been seen as increasingly irrelevant since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Most members are poor, developing countries, but Malaysia has indicated it believes international terrorism and the crisis over Iraq have given the movement a new role in world politics.
Apart from the "axis of evil", NAM includes some 50 of the 57 members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
MALAYSIA DRAWS FLACK FOR USING BMWS, MERCEDES AT NAM SUMMIT
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 19 (AFP) - The Malaysian government has come under fire for buying more than 150 Mercedes Benz and BMW cars for VIPs attending next week's Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit instead of using the national car, Proton.
"They should not have sacrificed our international pride and prestige in having a national car," Lim Kit Siang, chairman of the opposition Chinese-based Democratic Action Party told AFP Wednesday.
"By using BMWs and Mercedes, they are admitting our Protons are not up to international standards."
Most ordinary Malaysians are virtually forced to buy Protons -- a pet project of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad -- because of huge tariffs slapped on imported models.
But the organisers of the summit recently took delivery of 66 brand new BMWs worth 50 million ringgit and 86 Mercedes 350 series worth millions of dollars.
Eleven of the cars are bomb and bulletproof, apparently for the less popular heads of government among the 114 NAM member states.
Local newspapers have published letters from indignant Malaysians criticising the purchase of the foreign cars.
"We always talk about being proud of Malaysian-made products, but when it is critical that we show it, we fail miserably," said one.