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Fate of U.S. airbase in Kyrgyzstan to be decided in February


MOSCOW, January 22 (RIA Novosti) - A decision on the future of a U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan, will be made before the president of the Central Asian country visits Moscow at the start of February, a Kyrgyz OSCE delegate said on Thursday.

The base at Manas airport, some 30 kilometers (17 miles) east of the country's capital, Bishkek, hosts over 1,000 U.S. military personnel and nine military transport and refueling planes.

"There are now two [foreign] military bases in Kyrgyzstan - one U.S., one Russian," Azhibai Kalmamatov said. "The issue on the future of the American base is now being looked at and will be decided before the president of Kyrgyzstan visits Russia."

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev is due to visit Moscow in early February.

Several news sources have reported that Kyrgyzstan is planning to close the American airbase, which was opened in December 2001 under a UN mandate to support coalition forces in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.

Last week, however, the head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, said a team of U.S. officials would arrive in Kyrgyzstan in the near future to discuss a number of projects that could expand and improve the use of the base.

The general said the base was worth some $63 million a year to Kyrgyzstan, including rent, service and maintenance contracts, and wages for Kyrgyz employees.

The U.S. government allocated an additional $25 million this year for assistance to the Kyrgyz military in the fight against terrorism, extremism and drug-trafficking, Petraeus added.

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