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Kyrgyz leader seeks to bar U.S. contractors from supplying fuel to American base

After gang violence broke out against ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan, refugees have been forced to the Uzbekistan border.

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The Pentagon, ignoring Kyrgyz hostility toward private contractors, this summer opened bidding for a new jet fuel supply contract for Manas. Mina Corp. is among those bidding.

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Otunbayeva, who will meet with Obama on Friday, said she would be "very unhappy" if the Defense Department presses ahead with the process and awards a new contract.

In a statement, the Pentagon said that it was "open to exploring" the idea of supplying fuel through a state-owned enterprise. "The U.S. priority is to ensure a secure, reliable and uninterrupted supply of fuel to the Transit Center," the statement said.

The Manas Transit Center has played a critical role in President Obama's Afghan surge, with tens of thousands of American troops passing through the U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan as they enter and exit Afghanistan. The base also houses a fleet of air-tankers that are used for in-flight refueling of American warplanes over Afghanistan.

Unlike her predecessor, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who tried to close the U.S. base under pressure from Moscow, President Otunbayeva said she would let a base lease agreement with Washington stand.

She said that far from demanding that American troops leave Kyrgyzstan, President Medvedev of Russia had "even sort of expressed his satisfaction that America takes a lot of responsibility over the Afghan problem." Russia also has a military base in Kyrgyzstan, along with several other security-related facilities.

But opposition to the Manas Transit Center will probably increase after elections for a new Kyrgyz parliament in October. The poll is expected to strengthen forces who want to revisit the base accord.

Otunbayeva's own ability to influence events has grown steadily weaker following a series of grave crises, most notably a spasm of ethnic violence in the south of the country.

Asked to name the most difficult time of her brief tenure as president, Otunbayeva said: "All the time is difficult. Nobody would envy me my role."

higginsandrew@washpost.com kesslerg@washpost.com


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