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Kyrgyzstan: Bishkek Presents New Air-Base Terms To U.S.-Led Coalition

  • Bruce Pannier

http://gdb.rferl.org/44b0e0ad-b799-44c6-9f89-a5a0f7a736ba_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/44b0e0ad-b799-44c6-9f89-a5a0f7a736ba_mw800_mh600.jpg The Manas (aka Ganci) air field (RFE/RL) Kyrgyz authorities have presented new terms to the United States for continued use of the air base outside Bishkek. The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan uses the Manas air base for support operations. The Kyrgyz government is asking for a substantial increase in rent and compensation for environmental damage caused by coalition aircraft.

PRAGUE, 25 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry released a statement today saying it has sent terms of a possible new deal for the use of the Manas facility to the U.S. Embassy.

Ministry spokesman Nurjigit Kadyrbekov gave RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service an idea of what the country expected from the U.S.-led coalition for continued use of the air base: "On 24 January, Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry handed an official document to U.S. Ambassador [to Kyrgyzstan] Mary Jovanovich about the future of the deployment of U.S. forces in Kyrgyzstan, an official document in which the Kyrgyz government detailed new conditions. It includes increasing the rent, compensation for ecological damage, and landing and takeoff fees for planes."

The statement also said the new agreement would cover other points "reflecting Kyrgyzstan's national interests."

Kyrgyz Ambassador to the United States Zamira Sydykova explained some of what was meant by ecological damage at a news conference yesterday: "The damage, to a large extent, is obvious to the environment, and the pollution. People live next to the air base, and they are suffering because of this."

Early Warnings

Kyrgyzstan has indicated for some time that it wanted the terms of the lease changed. Under the original deal, which was signed in 2001, the coalition paid Kyrgyzstan $2 million per year for use of the base. Kyrgyz parliamentary speaker Omurbek Tekebaev said last week that his country was seeking to increase the yearly rental payments to $50 million. It is not known how much rent the Kyrgyz government has suggested in its recent proposed terms, but Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev in December indicated the increase would be significant.
The situation changed after the July 2005 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a group that allies Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and China. That summit produced a communique that called on U.S.-led forces to set a timetable for withdrawing coalition forces from Central Asia.


"We are now reconsidering the situation around the American base," Bakiev said. "I have to say candidly if we will reach a new agreement then they will pay 100 times more. They've agreed already. The Kyrgyz people will suffer no harm from the base."

Kyrgyz media dropped the reference to "100 times more," and Bakiev has not subsequently repeated that part of his statement.

The Facility's Importance

The United States -- which refers to the base as "Ganci" -- has not yet made any official response to the new Kyrgyz proposal.

Kyrgyzstan is coming from a strong position in its negotiations with the United States. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan agreed to allow U.S.-led forces to use air bases in their countries for operations in Afghanistan shortly after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.

The situation changed after the July 2005 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a group that joins Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and China. That summit produced a communique that called on U.S.-led forces to set a timetable for withdrawing coalition forces from Central Asia.

Weeks later, the Uzbek government told the United States to remove its forces from Uzbek territory by the end of 2005. Tajikistan also scaled down the already modest operation at a coalition base on its soil, leaving coalition forces only the base in Kyrgyzstan.

Financial Boost

The new, increased income from renting the base would be a huge boost to Kyrgyzstan's state treasury. But Kyrgyz Ambassador Sydykova said at yesterday's news conference that most of the money previously paid for using Manas appears to have vanished.

"The [proceeds] disappeared almost immediately into offshore accounts," Sydykova said. "Just a little bit of it was left, mostly that paid for services, social deductions, and some taxes. That was all that was left here."

Sydykova accused the family of former President Askar Akaev of having moved millions of dollars of that lease money to bank accounts outside the country before Akaev was forced out of office in March.

(Venera Djumatayeva and Naryn Idinov contributed to this report.)
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