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Tashkent Says 'No Need' For Nearby Russian Base

Uzbekistan has issued a sharp rebuke to Russia and Kyrgyzstan over their plan to set up a Russian military base in the neighborhood.

Russia and Kyrgyzstan reached initial agreement on August 1 to allow Russia to significantly boost its military presence in a country that already hosts one Russian base as well as a key U.S. air base.

We reported the Uzbek circumspection in the last of three segments this week (here are parts one and two) on the battle for influence in Central Asia:

But while Uzbekistan has recently accused Kyrgyzstan of being a gateway for terrorism to its borders, Tashkent has put up stern resistance to the idea of the CSTO security force. It has refused to sign on to the force, has shown increasing reluctance in participating in CSTO meetings, and going into the most recent summit strongly protested against the idea of another Russian base in the region.

But now they've made it official.

A second base could provoke radical extremists and feed ethnic strife, as well as destabilize the entire Central Asian region, according to a statement published by the Uzbek Foreign Ministry's Jahon news agency.

The ministry says simply that "there is no need" to open the base.

Uzbekistan has regional ambitions of its own and has been wary of Russia's growing influence in Central Asia.

It has only added to Tashkent's displeasure that the southern Kyrgyz region of Osh, an area that borders Uzbekistan and is home to many ethnic Uzbeks, has been suggested as a possible location for the Russian base.

Osh was a center of bloody ethnic conflict between its Kyrgyz and Uzbek residents in 1990, costing hundreds of lives on both sides, and is located in the densely populated Ferghana Valley, with its social and economic ills and history of tension.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev purports to see it differently. He says the potential for sudden problems arising in southern Kyrgyzstan makes it especially important to be prepared there.

-- Farangis Najibullah

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