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US, Uzbekistan confirm deal on anti-terror military cooperation

WASHINGTON, Oct 12 (AFP) - The United States and Uzbekistan said Friday they had reached a formal counter-terrorism agreement that will allow US troops and warplanes to use Uzbek airspace and military bases.

The announcement of the pact, which also pledges "urgent" bilateral security talks if Uzbekistan faces direct threats from terrorists, came as Afghanistan's Taliban militia said it had deployed thousands of troops to its border with the former Soviet republic.

In a joint statement released simultaneously in Washington and Tashkent, the United States and Uzbekistan said they had committed themselves "to eliminate international terrorism and its infrastructure."

"For these purposes, the Republic of Uzbekistan has agreed to provide the use of its airspace and necessary military and civilian infrastructure of one of its airports, which would be used in the first instance for humanitarian purposes," the statement said.

The statement said the formal agreement had been reached on October 7, the same day the United States and Britain launched airstrikes against targets in Afghanistan aimed at Saudi militant Osama bin Laden, his al-Qaeda network and their hosts, the Taliban militia.

Bin Laden is the US government's prime suspect in last month's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and has been linked to the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) which aims to overthrow the secular regime in Tashkent.

Uzbekistan last week agreed to fully cooperate in the US-led war on terrorism during a visit there by US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld but had limited the use of its bases to "humanitarian" search and rescue operations.

The State Department said the counter-terrorism agreement announced Friday was separate from the verbal deal reached between Rumsfeld and Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

"Our two governments have decided to establish a qualitatively new relationship based on a long-term commitment to advance security and regional stability," the statement said.

"This includes the need to consult on an urgent basis about appropriate steps to address the situation in the event of a direct threat to the security or territorial integrity of the Republic of Uzbekistan," it said.

A State Department official said the agreement should not be regarded as a mutual defense pact or formal treaty but was intended to cement counter-terrorism cooperation.

After Rumsfeld's visit, Uzbekistan, which shares a 137-kilometer (84-mile) border with Afghanistan, opened a military base to the United States and an advance party of 1,000 US combat troops deployed there at the weekend.

Thursday, the Taliban said it had deployed 10,000 troops close to the Uzbek border. The Taliban had earlier warned that Uzbekistan could face reprisal attacks after Karimov gave Rumsfeld permission to use the Khanabad military air base, in the south of the country.

In Tashkent, a foreign ministry spokesman said that, if true, the reported Taliban deployment was a dangerous move.

"Concentrating 10,000 troops on the border would be a dangerous tactic for the Taliban, because they would become targets for US bombing raids," the spokesman said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the announcement of the deal was unrelated to the reports of a Taliban military buildup.

Uzbekistan is "a country that we've worked with for many years in the past to help them with border security, to help them with anti-terrorism efforts and (there are) terrorism and threats coming at them from Afghanistan," he said.

"Neither of those things are particularly related to whatever the Taliban might have said" about troop deployments.

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