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US Delegation Praises Uzbekistan, Promises Aid - 2002-01-13


Congressional representatives visiting central Asia are looking into military and economic needs in the region. The delegation currently is in Uzbekistan, which has played a front-line role in supporting the war against terrorism in neighboring Afghanistan.

The delegation members praised Uzbekistan for agreeing to let U.S. troops use one of its air bases for the military campaign in Afghanistan. Representative Jim Kolbe of Arizona said Uzbekistan responded quickly to Washington's request to send troops last October. Around 1,000 troops arrived soon after, the first time Americans had been stationed in a former Soviet republic for a military operation.

Mr. Kolbe says the US has approved $100 million in aid to Uzbekistan, mostly for military training and security needs. The congressman said he discussed future economic aid and cooperation with Uzbek President Islam Karimov at a meeting in the capital city, Tashkent.

Mr. Kolbe is leading the house delegation on a nine-day trip through central Asia, including a stop in Afghanistan. The visit will help the US prepare for a conference of donors for Afghanistan to be held in Tokyo soon.

On Sunday, the Congress members were visiting the area on the Uzbek border through which humanitarian supplies are being shipped into northern Afghanistan. They were meeting with aid groups, which have been taking supplies across the Friendship Bridge that leads into northern Afghanistan. Huge amounts of mostly food aid have crossed the border since early last month, after Uzbek authorities finally agreed to reopen the bridge. They had initially refused to open the crossing for security reasons.

Uzbekistan had a strong interest in ousting the hard-line Taleban regime in Afghanistan because the militia supported an Uzbek rebel group. Human-rights organizations have long criticized the Uzbek authorities for using repressive tactics against all political opposition groups in an effort to deal with the rebel threat.

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