The president of Kyrgyzstan threatened on Wednesday to expel American troops from the strategically located Central Asian nation unless the United States agrees to pay more for its military presence.
About 1,000 troops are stationed at an air base set up in December 2001 at Kyrgyzstan’s main civilian airport near the capital, Bishkek. Most are American but there are also small French and Spanish contingents.
The facility is used as a transit point for troops going to or coming from Afghanistan and is a base for tanker planes that refuel military craft in Afghanistan.
Kyrgyzstan “reserves the right” to reconsider its agreement to host the U.S. troops, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said on state television.
Bakiyev said the government could terminate the agreement if talks on new financial terms do not end successfully before June.
The U.S. Embassy had no immediate comment.
The threat comes amid Russian concern about the U.S. presence in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan also hosts a Russian air base just east of Bishkek. Last summer a regional security body led by Russia and China called for the United States and its allies to set a date for the withdrawal of their forces from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Uzbekistan has since expelled its U.S. troops, angered by Western criticism of the government’s bloody crackdown on demonstrators last year.
Bakiyev came to power after a March 2005 uprising drove out President Askar Akayev, who had led Kyrgyzstan since the latter days of the Soviet Union.
The U.S. Embassy has been critical of Bakiyev’s government for holding up promised democratic reforms and failing to fight organized crime.