By Luke Baker
DURBAN, South Africa, Aug 29 (Reuters) - South Africa called on the 113 members of the Non-Aligned Movement on Saturday to hold the ``moral edge of leadership'' as the 12th meeting of the organisation got under way in the coast city of Durban.
But as a financial market crisis of almost unprecedented proportions threatened to spread around the world, South African Foreign Affairs Minister Alfred Nzo acknowledged that economic concerns might edge out the quest for the moral high ground.
``We must continue to be the conscience and the champion of the many voices of the weak and powerless in defiance of the dominant hegemony of the strong and powerful,'' he said in his opening address to delegates.
But he added later in the speech that member countries needed to recognize and address the problems raised by the new economic, social and political environment.
``The integration of the world economy...has brought about a wider and deeper interdependence between all the countries of the world.''
Originally conceived as a counter-balance to the Cold War domination of the Soviet Union and United States, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has often since been criticised as a talkshop of little relevance.
Issues discussed at its tri-annual meetings since the movement began in 1961 have focused on reform of the United Nations, the lag between developing and developed nations and the need for co-operation among its member countries.
Acknowledging that many of those concerns remain on the agenda after 37 years, Nzo tried to spark life into the UN's largest pressure group while also touching on the economic problems that threaten them all.
To tackle such hoary issues, the movement would ``need to assume a more creative and dynamic approach to the challenges facing it,'' he said.
Those challenges may never have been greater.
As well as dealing with issues raised by recent terrorist attacks in east Africa and the nuclear standoff between member states India and Pakistan, members will also be weighing their reaction to the United States' air strikes against targets in Afghanistan and Sudan.
But with Pakistan's President Nawaz Sharif deciding not to attend, the nuclear showdown with India is likely to be sidelined.
U.S. retaliation against alleged terrorist camps and chemical weapons sites will be on the agenda but may be edged out by economics.
``The major issue which will come up is the whole economic issue and basically the impact of globalisation and trade liberalisation and development in poor countries,'' South African deputy foreign affairs minister Aziz Pahad said on Friday.
Pahad said the summit would seek ways to address curbing volatility in financial markets.
``Given the fact that the (financial market) crisis has shown how quickly there can be the movement of capital from one country to another, we need to look at how we co-operate to deal with that,'' he said.
A further economic issue would be that of debt relief to the world's lesser developed economies, which in Africa alone is estimated to amount to 2,500 rand ($407.8) per person. $1-6.1290 Rand)