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May 22, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Yaroslav Butakov

IN UNCLE SAM'S TRAP

The United States prepares attack on Iran from Kyrgyzstan's territory?

A newly founded public association in Kyrgyzstan, named Coordination Council, demands withdrawal of US Air Force from the civil airport of Manas. Protests against US military presence in the area burst out after a local auto driver was killed by a US serviceman.

The Gansi AF Base was deployed at Manas airport in late 2001, under the pretext of a multinational anti-terrorist effort against Afghanistan's Taliban. Air force units of the United States and other NATO countries, particularly France and Germany, were deployed at that time in several countries of Central Asia.

In summer 2005, member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) issued a joint declaration stating that presence of foreign troops on their territories is no longer necessary. All of the Central Asia nations were disappointed with a deliberate intervention of the United States in the domestic affairs of former Soviet countries, so-called "colored revolutions" launched with open approval and support from the White House. Massive riots in Kyrgyzstan, timed to the elections of this state's parliament, not only forced President Askar Akayev to resign but also initiated a long-term phase of instability and chaos. Meanwhile, George W. Bush celebrated this disaster as "a tulip revolution".

Uzbekistan, where a similar attempt of destabilization from outside resulted in bloody clashes in Andizhan, Fergana Valley, was the first country to demand withdrawal of the US AF base, deployed at Khanabad Airport. A weaker and more financially dependent leadership of Kyrgyzstan chose another option, demanding increase of rent of the Manas airport's facilities. After a new wave of massive civil clashes in the country, Kyrgyzstan's powers suspended even those demands.

Last year, two incidents in Manas aroused serious irritation in the Kyrgyz population. On September 26, a passenger TU-154 plane, starting from Manas, collided with a US fuel supplier KC-135R. The civil aircraft was seriously damaged, and only the skills of the two pilots, Bolot Medetbekov and Alexander Berezentsev, prevented a crash. Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs demanded investigation, but the US side laid responsibility on the Kyrgyz personnel of the airport.

On December 6, 2006, a new drama followed. A US military serviceman named Zachary Hatfield killed Kyrgyz citizen Alexander Ivanov, a driver who worked on a contract with the US air base. Again, the US side rejected all the charges. Already on December 8, the Gansi AF Base's management issued a press release declaring that the driver allegedly violated the security regime.

According to the version of the US commanders, Alexander Ivanov attacked the US soldier with a penknife, and Mr. Hatfield therefore acted on instruction, shooting twice in his breast "in accordance with a standard procedure, in which the security personnel of the Air Forces is trained".

Galina Skripkina, the attorney of the driver's widow Marina Ivanova, insists that the victim could not attack the US serviceman, as his body was found at a distance of 5-6 meters of the security post, and the knife was lying 20 meters away from the body. "The knife is flat, so it could not physically roll away so far", the lawyer argues.

Still, Mr. Hatfield can't be sued by Kyrgyz authorities, as the bilateral agreement on the US Air Force deployment in Manas suggests that all the servicemen are protected with diplomatic immunity.

On December 15, 2006, the issue was raised at the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan, which urged the Government to demand prosecution of Mr. Hatfield. Kyrgyz investigators share the view that the driver did not attack the US serviceman and was just deliberately killed by him. Still, the country's top officials are only addressing the US Embassy with requests for an "objective investigation". Instead, Mr. Hatfield was quietly demobilized on March 22. Meanwhile, Mr. Ivanov's widow has received no compensation for his death, though it should be paid even in case of a technical accident.

The US side has not paid for the damage of the Kyrgyz aircraft in the September 26 collision. The case is being investigated in a US court.

"As a matter of fact, US servicemen, enjoying their status of immunity granted by the Kyrgyz state, can do anything they like with no legal consequences. Does that mean that someone’s profit from the deployment is more important for our officials than the life of their citizens and the country's reputation?" asks lawyer Galina Skripkina in her May 2007 request, addressed to MP Rashid Tagayev, chair of the parliament's Defense and Security Committee.

The US side has been paying not more than $2mln a year for rent of Manas terminals. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev demanded to raise the rent to $207mln. Still, he later agreed for a sum of $15mln, plus an additional single payment of $150mln. The text of the final agreement is still unavailable. Moreover, even the earlier payments are not registered in the Kyrgyz Government's documentation. This fact was mentioned by MP Almanbet Matubraimov at the May 21 session of the Parliament.

In his speech, Mr. Matubrayimov quoted the words of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that in case of a military offensive against Iran, the first air attack will be delivered from the Gansi base. In his turn, Iran's President promised that the response will follow immediately, and target the place from where the attack was coming. "That means our territory", indicates the MP.

On June 2, the Coordination Council is going to convene a public rally at the entrance of the US Embassy in Bishkek, demanding withdrawal of the US Air Force contingent from Manas. That is one more attempt to force the President and the Government to change their policy which is making today's Kyrgyzstan a hostage of deliberate militant policies of Washington, and a potential target for Washington's adversary.


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