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Germany

Germany Seeks Uzbek Base Alternatives

Germany is seeking alternatives to its military base in Uzbekistan after the Central Asian nation banned several European countries from stationing troops there.

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Uzbek soldiers fired at protesters in Andijan in May

"We are going to have talks with Uzbekistan to develop alternatives," government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said ahead of a meeting to be held next week. "I think we will be able to clarify this issue."

Germany's new Chancellor Angela Merkel had raised the issue with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer during a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, Wilhelm said.

Banned

ISAF Soldaten aus Deutschland in Afghanistan

German soldiers are in Afghanistan as part of the ISAF

Some 300 German troops are in Uzbekistan, mostly maintenance crews for aircraft used in supporting the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, a NATO source had said Germany was among several member countries informed by the Uzbek government that it could no longer use its territory as a rear base for operations in Afghanistan.

Germany exempt

However, on Thursday an official in the Uzbek foreign ministry said that Germany was exempt from the ban, although Belgium, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands had been told they would no longer be able to station troops in Uzbekistan or use its airspace.

Erste UN-Fahrzeuge passieren die Grenze nach Afghanistan

An Uzbek border guards' check-point near Termez, Uzekistan

"No notification has been sent to Germany. Its base in the south will no doubt remain," the official said, referring to the Termez facility in the south of the country where some 300 German personnel are stationed.

For the other countries, the ban could hamper logistical operations in Afghanistan for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which commands the 10,000 troops from 37 countries of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Germany would then be the only NATO country with ground troops in Uzbekistan and, along with the United States, the only country allowed to use the airspace en route to Afghanistan.

Strained relations

Unruhen in Usbekistan

A rally in downtown Andijan in May

Relations between Uzbek President Islam Karimov's regime and the West have deteriorated since Uzbek forces put down an uprising in the eastern city of Andijan last May.

Washington angered Tashkent by calling for an international inquiry into the bloodshed, while human rights activists say that hundreds of people, mostly civilians, were killed.

The European Union also called for an international probe and last week banned 12 Uzbek leaders from entering the bloc.

Uzbekistan reacted by evicting the US military from the Karshi-Khanabad base, set up in 2001 for US-led military operations to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

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