Kyrgyzstan moves to shut key US base

BISHKEK, Feb 4, 2009 (AFP) - Kyrgyzstan's government on Wednesday approved the closure of a US airbase on its territory used as a vital supply route for Western military operations in Afghanistan.

A US soldier guards the main access checkpoint to the US air base 30 km outside of Bishkek in Manas on Feb. 4, 2009 (Photo: AFP)

The decision by the Central Asian state came as a snub to the administration of US President Barack Obama, which has singled out Afghanistan as the main front in US military operations overseas.

Washington says it needs the Kyrgyz base and is working to secure additional supply routes through ex-Soviet Central Asia to implement its plans, which include deployment of 30,000 more troops over the next 18 months.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the closure a day earlier in Moscow, fuelling speculation the decision came under pressure from Russia, which has been irritated by the US presence in ex-Soviet territory.

On Wednesday, the Kyrgyz government rapidly approved a bill ordering the base's closure and was to submit the text to parliament for a debate on Thursday, government spokesman Marat Kydyraliyev said.

The bill "is about the cancellation of the agreement with the United States on the presence in Kyrgyzstan of the American air base," he told AFP.

In the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, the US Embassy said it had not received any notice that Kyrgyzstan was ordering the closure of the base, located outside Bishkek at Manas and home to over 1,000 foreign troops, mostly American.

US embassy officials were on Wednesday trying to hold talks with the Kyrgyz presidential administration but so far such requests were not being met, officials in the presidential administration told AFP.

"Discussions will continue," the embassy said in a statement. "We have a broad range of programmes and interests we will continue to pursue with the government and people of Kyrgyzstan."

In Moscow a top Russian government official denied Moscow had played a role in Bishkek's decision.

"This is the decision of the Kyrgyz leadership, not the Russian leadership," Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said in an interview with AFP. "It is a sovereign state."

The base was set up to assist coalition forces fighting to oust the Taliban from Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

After the ejection of another base from Uzbekistan in 2005 it became the only US base in the Central Asian states.

Source: AFP

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