Base-hitter: new Kyrgyz leader wants US air base out

Kyrgyz President-elect Almazbek Atambayev has announced that all military installations should be removed from airports serving the country’s capital, Bishkek.

This includes the Manas Air Force Base (also known as the transit transport center) manned by the US military and working for the international anti-terrorist coalition that fights in Afghanistan.

“Our airport is a civilian one and it must be engaged in civilian activities. It brings bad associations when you land at an airfield and there are military aircraft on it,” Atambayev told reporters in Bishkek on Tuesday. “I would not like any of the countries that currently oppose the United States deliver a strike on us,” the official added.

At the same time, Atambayev said that the Kyrgyz side has no objections against a civilian installation in the airport. He said that his country will honor all international obligations, including the agreement on the air force base of the international anti-terrorist coalition. The current treaty between the United States and Kyrgyzstan provides that the Manas base must remain under US control until 2014.

The air base has been used since 2001 and has played a major role in NATO operations in Afghanistan. In 2009, the Kyrgyz government wanted to shut down the base citing unfavorable financial compensation, environmental damage and a number of incidents when US troops stationed in Manas used legal immunity to avoid prosecution by for alleged crimes against Kyrgyz citizens. However, US officials managed to negotiate a new deal with better financial terms. The base was renamed into transit center and underwent major reconstruction before the lease was prolonged.

In 2010, a popular uprising toppled Kurmanbek Bakiev’s government, but the new authorities backed the lease contract. At the same time, the US authorities have repeatedly stated that they were looking for a different transport hub location. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated during the 2009 talks that his country was not prepared to stay at the Kyrgyz base at any price, but noted that Manas was important.

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