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Kyrgyzstan: Business, Corruption and the Manas Airbase

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In contrast, Washington has yet to announce any relief aid. Instead, expect the U.S. in the upcoming days to focus obsessively on continued access to the Manas Transit Center airbase, 20 miles from the capital. While the base's lease expires on 7 July, Otunbayeva has already stated that it will be "automatically" extended, though next year the issue is likely to arise again unless Washington institutes some major course corrections in its previous policies towards Kyrgyzstan. Washington has a major uphill struggle ahead, largely of its own making.

Senior leaders in the interim government that took power last week are accusing the United States of allowing Bakiyev family members to enrich themselves with inflated contracts supplying jet fuel to Manas Transit Center. According to provisional government senior members, companies controlled by the president's 32-year-old son, Maksim, who last October was appointed by his father to head the country's newly created Central Agency on Development, Investment, and Innovation, skimmed as much as $8 million a month from daily jet fuel sales to the base of up to a quarter million gallons, utilizing a monopoly and favorable taxes. More than any other single factor, Washington's policies towards the Manas Transit Center have been responsible for alienating Kyrgyz opinion against the U.S. Accordingly, a brief overview of U.S. policies towards the airbase are in order.

MANAS A COZY BUSINESS ARRANGEMENT FROM THE START

The Manas airbase was established on 4 December 2001 under the joint Kyrgyz-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) under the administration of then President Askar Akayev. The Pentagon was granted the right to use the airbase for the bargain rent of $2 million annually, but almost immediately Washington established contracts for fueling and landing rights with companies controlled by Akayev's family, which found the Pentagon paying far higher than prevailing international rates for the base. The Pentagon selected Manas above Kyrgyzstan's other 52 airports because its 14,000-foot runway, originally built for Soviet bombers, could be utilized by USAF C-5 Galaxy cargo planes and 747s to support Operation Enduring Freedom operations in Afghanistan.

THE MARCH 2005 TULIP REVOLUTION - BUSINESS AS USUAL

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