Kyrgyzstan’s interim leader told The Associated Press on Tuesday that her government will extend the lease of a U.S. air base key to the war in Afghanistan.
Roza Otunbayeva said that the agreement allowing the U.S. to use the Manas air base will be prolonged after the current one-year deal expires in July.
“It will be automatically extended,” she said, without specifying how long the extension would last.
The U.S. base, at the capital’s international airport provides refuelling flights for warplanes over Afghanistan and serves as a major transit hub for troops.
Ms. Otunbayeva also told the AP that her government is offering security guarantees for deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev if he steps down and leaves the country, but wouldn’t offer immunity to his family.
“We will provide security guarantees which he’s entitled to under the constitution,” she said, dodging a question about guarantees for the president’s family.
Both the United States and Russia, which also has a military base in Kyrgyzstan, have watched the violence that has gripped the impoverished ex-Soviet Central Asian nation with concern.
A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, which is in charge of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, said troop transports to and from Afghanistan were suspended last week at the Manas airbase.
Major John Redfield told The Associated Press flights resumed briefly on Friday and then a few hundred troops were flown back to the U.S. Monday after being stuck at Manas by the shutdown. Other than that, flights to and from Afghanistan remain indefinitely suspended.
Russia, which has watched the U.S. military presence in what it considers its backyard with unease. It had pushed Mr. Bakiyev’s government to evict the U.S. military. But after announcing last year that American forces would have to leave the Manas base, Kyrgyzstan agreed to allow them to stay after the U.S. raised the annual rent to about $63 million from $17 million.
Mr. Bakiyev fled the capital last week during an uprising in which 83 people were killed. He said on Tuesday from his native village in the south that he was ready to resign in exchange for security guarantees for him and his family.
Mr. Bakiyev did not detail what sort of security guarantees he was looking for. The opposition figures who formed a self-declared interim government after he fled the capital had previously offered him safe passage out of the country, but Mr. Bakiyev has shown no intention of leaving Kyrgyzstan and there are doubts about whether any country would accept him.
When asked specifically about Mr. Bakiyev’s brother and son on Tuesday, the security chief in the interim government, Keneshbek Duishebayev, declined to comment. Those men are among the Bakiyev relatives most often accused of reaping massive wealth through improper channels; complaints about corruption were a prime issue in the events that drove him out of the capital.
Mr. Bakiyev signalled his readiness to resign hours after rallying with about 5,000 supporters in an apparent test of how much support he could muster for resisting the opposition authorities. Although the crowd of supporters that greeted Mr. Bakiyev on Tuesday was highly emotional, there have been persistent doubts about how much backing he has and whether he commanded enough loyalty in the security forces to mount serious resistance.
Ms. Otunbayeva indicated that her government’s patience with Mr. Bakiyev is running out.
“His stay in Kyrgyzstan is posing a problem for the nation’s future,” she told the AP. “It’s becoming increasingly difficult to guarantee his security as people are demanding to bring him to justice.”
Asked where Mr. Bakiyev might go, she said she didn’t know but then added that Mr. Bakiyev would probably like to join his sons, who are currently in Latvia.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was the first foreign leader to call Ms. Otunbayeva after her appointment as the interim leader and offered help, prompting speculation that Moscow was jockeying for a bigger clout in Kyrgyzstan at the U.S. expense.
Ms. Otunbayeva said on Tuesday that she expects the U.S. to wrap up its campaign in Afghanistan which would remove the rationale for the U.S. base, but added that “it’s not an issue yet.”
Keywords: Political upheaval,