The Week Ahead: Gulf neighbours polish their shield

HEADS of state of the six- member Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) meet in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, today until Wednesday to discuss an early warning system to respond to perceived threats from their larger neighbours Iran and Iraq. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are expected to beef up their joint military force - the 'Peninsular Shield'.

Western naval forces in the Gulf provide some defence but the GCC countries feel this is not enough to guarantee their long-term security. They want Iraq to accept the UN-brokered border agreement with Kuwait, and Iran to give up three strategic islands claimed by the UAE.

The Gulf countries have their own border disputes - which have snowballed into armed clashes at least twice in the last decade or so - but these will be firmly stamped on at the summit in the interests of presenting a united front to the world.

A border conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and continued for five years is the fighting over the enclave of Nagorny Karabakh between separatist ethnic Armenians and the surrounding Azeris. Azeri and Armenian leaders, including Karabakh representatives, meet in the Aland Isles of Finland tomorrow to try to resolve the dispute. The meeting, which was orchestrated by the Russians, follows a string of failed ceasefires.

The government and opposition of Romania are expected to stage rival ceremonies to mark tomorrow's official anniversary of the December 1989 revolution which overthrew Nicolae Ceausescu. The authorities will doubtless try to keep things in order during the visit to Bucharest today and tomorrow of the Russian Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, who is to sign a military co-operation treaty and meet President Ion Iliescu and the Prime Minister, Nicolae Vacaroiu. Hardline Communists will make a pilgrimage to Ceausescu's grave on Saturday, Christmas Day, the fourth anniversary of his execution.

Also on Saturday, the verdict will be announced in Kuwait in the trial of 11 Iraqis and three Kuwaitis accused of plotting to kill George Bush.

The UN Secretary-General, Boutros-Boutros Ghali, visits South Korea for the first time from Wednesday until Friday for consultations on North Korea's nuclear installations and South Korea's participation in UN activities. He arrives in Peking on Sunday, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mao Tse-tung. In celebrations at Mao's birthplace in Hunan province, a five-times larger than life statue of the Great Helmsman will be unveiled.

A hemisphere away in Peru, the Maoist Sendero Luminoso guerrillas plan to launch a 'strategic offensive' in their hero's honour.

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