U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan says no sign of closure

Kyrgyzstan Materials 4 February 2009 10:38 (UTC +04:00)

The U.S. military air base in Kyrgyzstan said on Wednesday it had received no official notification that Kyrgyz authorities had ordered its closure.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said in Moscow on Tuesday his government had decided to shut down the Manas air base, set up in 2001 after the start of the U.S.-led military campaign against Taliban and al Qaeda militants in Afghanistan, reported Reuters.

"We have not received any official notification from the U.S. State Department on any change in the air base's status," a spokesman for the base said in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.

"At the moment all servicemen continue to fulfill their duties as usual."

U.S. officials in Washington have made no comment on Bakiyev's statement, which was made at a time when the United States is seeking to reinforce supply routes to Afghanistan that bypass Pakistan where convoys have been attacked by militants.

On his visit to Moscow, Bakiyev received a promise of more than $2 billion in credit and aid from Russia to assist his impoverished Central Asian country, a former Soviet republic.

Russia, annoyed about the presence of U.S. troops in a region it considers as part of its strategic sphere of interest, has long pressured Kyrgyzstan to close the Manas base, home to more than 1,000 U.S. military personnel.

Moscow operates its own military air base in Kyrgyzstan.

Iskhak Masaliyev, a Kyrgyz member of parliament, said the United States would be given 180 days to remove its forces once it had received official notification of the termination of its contract for the air base.

"Basically Kyrgyzstan had to make its choice. And it has now made its strategic choice," said Masaliyev, who represents Kyrgyzstan's communists in parliament.