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Kyrgyzstan OK's limited presence of Western planes
By Olga Dzyubenko

BISHKEK, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan said on Tuesday it was ready to accommodate warplanes from the U.S.-led anti-terrorist coalition at one of its airbases but a senior official said the Western presence would be limited and short-term.

"We have in principle confirmed our readiness to support the anti-terrorist coalition and we are now studying their proposals. This is our official answer," presidential adviser Askar Aitmatov told Reuters. "We are ready in principle."

Aitmatov went out of his way to dispel fears in Russia that Moscow's political and military influence in the vast region it once ruled would be eroded by the Western deployment.

"One should not be afraid that they (coalition forces) will stay here for long," Aitmatov said.

"This (operation in Afghanistan) is not being conducted to boost their influence in the region. Its goal is crystal-clear -- to eliminate the structure of international terrorism."

Aitmatov said Kyrgyzstan would allow the coalition warplanes onto its soil only after signature of a relevant agreement and ratification by the national legislature.

President Askar Akayev has sweeping powers in his mountainous nation of five million, and few doubt ratification is just a formality.


Aitmatov said Kyrgyzstan's cooperation with the coalition would be discussed with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is to visit to Bishkek on Saturday as part of a 10-nation tour to bolster support for the Afghan campaign.

Kyrgyzstan and the four other ex-Soviet republics in Central Asia have been the focus of considerable U.S. attention as a convenient staging ground for the operation against the fundamentalist Taliban in Afghanistan to the south. Three states border Afghanistan -- Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, worried about the growing influence of Muslim fundamentalism on his country's southern flank has thrown his political weight behind the coalition. He also effectively gave Central Asian states the green light to cooperate with the U.S.-led coalition.

France asked Kyrgyzstan last month for permission to place military aircraft at a base. France's NATO allies Italy and Canada put similar requests to Bishkek last week.

Aitmatov said the president met senior U.S. and French officers on Monday to discuss "additional steps aimed at eliminating the infrastructure of terrorism. The talk was about the deployment of warplanes of the anti-terrorist coalition."

He said Kyrgyzstan would probably host French Mirage fighter bombers, plus transport planes from Canada, Italy or the United States. Deployment of ground troops had not been discussed.

France and the United States use Khanabad base in adjacent Uzbekistan, but Uzbek President Islam Karimov has limited operations to search and rescue and humanitarian missions.

Paris announced last week that Tajikistan had agreed to let France station Mirage 2000 fighter bombers at its airbases.

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