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Tajik Military Air Base Completed With Indian Help

DUSHANBE -- A multimillion dollar renovation of a Soviet-era military air base near the Tajik capital is complete but it remains unclear which country will use the facility, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

The completion of the renovation work at Ayni air base -- which was largely paid for by India -- was marked at the weekend by a military parade and a visit by President Emomali Rahmon.

Tajik Defense Ministry spokesman Faridun Muhammadaliev told RFE/RL on September 7 that the air base, located 25 kilometers from Dushanbe near the town of Hisor, now has state-of-the-art navigational and defense technology.

He added that the runway was also extended to 3,200 meters so that all types of aircraft can land there.

Some experts anticipate that India -- which contributed $70 million toward the renovation and sent specialists to help with the work -- will be allowed to use the airport. But other analysts doubt that Tajikistan would jeopardize its relationship with Pakistan by allowing Indian planes at the air base.

Russian media reported that Rahmon and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, reached an agreement during talks in Dushanbe on August 30, 2008, that Russia would station five Su-25 fighter jets, Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters at Ayni after renovations were completed.

Muhammadaliev said those reports are are baseless. He said that "for now we have not signed any agreements with any country about the use of Ayni. This airport is for the [Tajik] air force and the antiaircraft defense of Tajikistan."

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake denied during talks with President Rahmon in late August that Washington was interested in using Ayni.

It has also been proposed to move French military aircraft based at Dushanbe city airport to Ayni.