Kyrgyz president signs decree shutting strategic US airbase

February 20th, 2009 - 6:16 pm ICT by IANS  

Bishkek, Feb 20 (RIA Novosti) Kyrgyzstan’s President Kurmanbek Bakiyev Friday signed a decree to close a US airbase used since 2001 to support NATO operations in neighbouring Afghanistan, his office said in a statement.
On Thursday Kyrgyzstan’s single-chamber legislature approved the closure. The move was supported by 78 lawmakers, with one voting against. The pro-presidential Ak Zhol party has 70 seats in the 90-member legislature.

Now that Bakiyev has signed the bill, the Kyrgyz government will notify the US, giving it 180 days to withdraw some 1,200 personnel, aircraft and other equipments from the airbase, the statement said.

Bakiyev announced plans to close the only US base in Central Asia after talks in Moscow early February, when he secured more than $2 billion in aid and loans from Russia.

Both Russia and Kyrgyzstan have denied any link between the aid deal and the closure of the Manas base, located near the Kyrgyz capital.

Bakiyev said Washington had refused to pay more for the base. He also linked the move to the conduct of US military personnel, including the killing of a Kyrgyz national by a US soldier in December 2006.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates hinted at an informal meeting of NATO defence ministers Thursday that Washington could pay more rent for the base.

However, he said the US would not squander taxpayers’ money simply to keep the base intact and that it may look at alternative sites.

The decision to close the base comes as US President Barack Obama announced he would send an additional 17,000 soldiers to Afghanistan to fight Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. The move will increase the US contingent to more than 50,000 personnel.

Russia, which has an airbase in Kant, a short distance from the Manas base, recently said it was ready to allow Washington to use that base for non-military supplies to Afghanistan.

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