Friday, November 25, 2005

Uzbekistan refuses airspace to NATO

BRUSSELS: Uzbekistan has told the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) that it can no longer use its territory or airspace for the peacekeeping mission in neighbouring Afghanistan, NATO officials said on Wednesday.

The decision is likely to affect Germany in particular, because it uses a base in southern Uzbekistan to provide backup for its troops across the border.

However, NATO said that alternatives would be found if needed and the mission would not be hurt. “There will be no diminishment of our ability to support our operation in Afghanistan,” NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.

NATO diplomats said that Uzbek authorities informed the allies that they must withdraw troops and stop flights by January 1. The order comes amid worsening relations between the Central Asian republic and western nations that have been critical of a May crackdown on demonstrators in Uzbekistan.

The European Union last week banned 12 Uzbek officials from entering the bloc because of their involvement in quelling the uprising, in which hundreds were killed. Last month, the 25-nation bloc imposed an arms embargo on the ex-Soviet republic and suspended a cooperation pact.

Uzbekistan’s move away from once-warm relations with the west has been matched by closer ties with Russia. The two countries this month signed a far-reaching treaty opening the way for a Russian military deployment in the Central Asian nation.

Germany, which has 2,250 troops in Afghanistan, uses a base at Termez in Uzbekistan for backup and to run supplies to troops, who make up one of the largest contingents in the NATO force.

A spokesman for the Defence Ministry in Berlin said that Germany had other choices. “If we cannot, we have several alternatives” in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the spokesman said. He declined to elaborate.

Officials said that one alternative could be switching the support base to Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. Germany is supposed to take over the NATO headquarters there from Britain next year under plans to expand and reorganise the peacekeeping force.

Uzbekistan has already ordered out the US military. On Monday, the Americans flew their last plane out from an air base in Uzbekistan that had been an important hub for operations in Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan’s hard-line President Islam Karimov ordered the US troops to leave the Karshi-Khanabad Air Base within six months after Washington condemned the May crackdown


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home