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Kyrgyz Government Urges U.S. To Suspend Fuel Deal

The Manas base is the main fuel-supply route for U.S. planes and troops entering and leaving Afghanistan. In March, some 50,000 U.S. troops transited through the base.
BISHKEK -- The Kyrgyz government has called on the United States to suspend cooperation with a company contracted to supply fuel to the U.S. transit center in the Central Asian country, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

On November 3 the U.S. Defense Department awarded a $315 million jet-fuel contract for the Manas air base to the London-based Mina Corporation.

In a statement today, the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry urged the U.S. government to suspend cooperation with Mina until Kyrgyz prosecutors had finished their own investigation into the Manas fuel-supply contracts.

The ministry said the April downfall of the previous government of President Kurmanbek Bakiev had revealed corrupt dealings surrounding the supply of fuel to the transit center, a key hub for supporting U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan.

The Manas contracts have figured in two probes -- one by a U.S. Congressional subcommittee, the other by Kyrgyz investigators.

On November 3 the chair of the Congressional subcommittee issued a statement saying that in the past, "the Pentagon and State Department had ignored widespread Kyrgyz public perceptions of contract corruption" and that the contracting process had not been transparent.

But Representative John Tierney (Democrat, Massachusetts) said the subcommitee had found no evidence of "underlying corruption" in the contracts, or that Bakiev's family had profited from the fuel contracts with the United States.

Tierney also said that the present contract was awarded in a transparent manner and was an "important step forward."

In interviews with RFE/RL, however, Kyrgyz officials said they did not believe the Congressional investigation had been thorough.

Askar Beshimov, a former deputy foreign minister, said the investigation "showed that corruption and the frustration of the local population is not important" to the U.S. Congress.

Beshimov told RFE/RL, "Anyone can see that there is corruption."

Emil Aliev, the deputy chief of the pro-Russian Ar-Namys party, said the allegations of corruption would be discussed when the new Kyrgyz parliament meets next week.

"We all know that ever since the American base was opened in Kyrgyzstan, the supply of fuel, the renting of the land, everything is done in the interest of a small group of people in power," Aliev said.

Manas air base outside of the capital city of Bishkek is the main fuel-supply route for U.S. planes and troops entering and leaving Afghanistan. In March, some 50,000 U.S. troops transited through the air base. In April, Kyrgyzstan's interim government extended the U.S. lease on the base for one year.

Since 2002, Mina Corporation and its affiliate company, Red Star Enterprises, believed to be controlled by 58-year-old American businessman Douglas Edelman, have received multiple fuel contracts from the U.S. military.

In September, Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbaeva appealed to U.S. lawmakers to use Kyrgyz state fuel suppliers instead of private contractors such as Mina.

Allegations that top government officials and their families enriched themselves by skimming money from fuel contracts at Manas have never been proven, but popular anger over the charges helped topple President Askar Akaev in 2005 as well as his successor, Bakiev, earlier this year.