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U.S. Defense Secretary To Make Surprise Tajik Visit

(RFE/RL) PRAGUE, July 10, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is scheduled to start an unannounced two-day visit to Tajikistan later today, according to Tajik authorities, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported.

Tajik Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattarov announced the Rumsfeld visit at a news conference in the Tajik capital Dushanbe.

"Today in Dushanbe, the defense minister [secretary] of the United States of America, Mr. Donald Rumsfeld, is coming for a visit," Sattarov said. "During his stay here he will have a meeting with the president of Tajikistan during which they plan to discuss questions about the further development and deepening of cooperation between our countries and also questions about regional security."

Rumsfeld is also due to meet with Defense Minister Sherali Khairulloev and visit a Tajik military base.

Tajik officials have allowed the international coalition use of its airspace since the 2001 military attack on Afghanistan, as well as use of a civilian airfield. Hundreds of French military personnel and six Mirage fighters remain stationed in Tajikistan as part of continuing coalition operations in Afghanistan.

Tajikistan, the poorest of Central Asia's five former Soviet republics, is home to a Russian air base. Drug trafficking and other cross-border crime remains a problem.

Local reports emerged last week suggesting that Rumsfeld would visit the Tajik capital but there has been no official word on his agenda.

(with material from ITAR-TASS, Asia-Plus, Avesta, AP)

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