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Kyrgyzstan says position unchanged on U.S. military presence


BISHKEK, March 27 (RIA Novosti) - A spokesman for Kyrgyzstan's president rejected on Friday reports that the country is considering allowing U.S. troops to remain at the Manas airbase.

Earlier on Friday, a high-ranking source in the U.S. administration said the United States had received an offer from Kyrgyzstan to continue negotiations on maintaining the Manas airbase near Bishkek.

The Kyrgyz spokesman said: "Yesterday, the foreign minister [Kadyrbek Sarbayev] stated that Kyrgyzstan is not considering the possibility of returning the Manas airbase to the U.S. This position remains unchanged."

However, the foreign minister, who is currently in Moscow for an international conference on Afghanistan, was more equivocal on the issue.

When asked about the offer to the U.S., he said: "I don't know anything about this, because I've been in Moscow for the past two days."

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signed on February 20 a decree to close the Manas airbase. Kyrgyzstan officially notified Washington about the termination of the agreement on a U.S. military presence at the base, and gave it 180 days to withdraw some 1,200 personnel, aircraft and other equipment.

The base, staffed mainly by U.S. Air Force personnel, had been used since 2001 to support NATO operations in nearby Afghanistan.

Bakiyev linked the decision to Washington's refusal to pay more for the base and to the conduct of U.S. military personnel, including the killing of a Kyrgyz national by a U.S. soldier in December 2006.

Kyrgyz officials have rejected any connection between the decision and a recent Russian financial aid package under which Russia will write off Kyrgyzstan's $180 million debt and grant the country a $2 billion soft loan and $150 million in financial assistance. Moscow has likewise denied any link.

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