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U.S. military in Kyrgyzstan abide by international norms - Gates

RIA Novosti

05/06/2007 13:37 BISHKEK, June 5 (RIA Novosti) -U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Manas military base rented from Kyrgyzstan met all international norms, while Bishkek is considering reviewing diplomatic immunity for U.S. servicemen in the country.

Amid calls to close the airbase at Manas, located south of the country's capital and used by the United States for its anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan, the Kyrgyz president ordered a parliamentary commission last month to review the agreement on the deployment of anti-terrorist forces in the country, in line with Kyrgyzstan's interests.

"The arrangements that we have at Manas are similar to those of other nations, who have military forces here in Kyrgyzstan," Gates said in an apparent allusion to a Russian military base in Kant, about 20 miles west of the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.

On June 2, several dozens activists rallied in front of the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and for Zachary Hatfield to be handed over to the Kyrgyz authorities. Hatfield, an airman, is accused of shooting and killing a driver at the fuel supply company Aircraft Petroleum Management last December during a routine security check at the Manas airbase.

Following the incident Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev demanded that American servicemen stationed in the country be stripped of diplomatic immunity. Parliament went even further, recommending that the government consider closing the U.S. airbase, which brings $150 million annually to the impoverished state. Media hinted at the possibility of the U.S. using the base in the Central Asian state to deliver air strikes against Iran, which Washington suspects of pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

The activists also demanded that all incidents involving U.S. troops, including the collision of a plane with a U.S. tanker, be investigated and an environmental inspection of the territory adjacent to the airbase be carried out.

Meeting with the Kyrgyz leadership in Bishkek Tuesday, Gates told President Bakiyev that the U.S. fully understood Kyrgyz claims over the incidents at the airbase and pledged to do everything possible to resolve the problems and prevent new ones from occurring.

He said the main goal of his visit was to thank Kyrgyzstan for supporting the fight against international terrorism.

"I think what's important for the people of Kyrgyzstan to understand is that our use of Manas is in support of a larger war on terrorism in which Kyrgyzstan is an ally of virtually every other nation on earth," Gates said.

Bakiyev said in turn that his country would comply with all provisions under the agreement on the base lease. "Kyrgyzstan rigorously abides by its commitments to the international anti-terrorist coalition," he said.

Housing over 1,000 U.S. personnel and aircraft, Manas airbase is the only U.S. base in post-Soviet Central Asia since Uzbekistan evicted American troops from its territory in 2005.

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