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US to Train Iraqi Dissidents in Hungary - 2002-12-10

The Hungarian Defense Ministry says it expects thousands of Iraqi opponents of Saddam Hussein to be given non-combat training in Hungary in the next few months by the U.S. military. An official request signed by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was presented to the Hungarian government on Tuesday.

The director-general at the Hungarian Defense Ministry, Peter Matyuc, told VOA about 2,400 Iraqi exiles will be trained at a U.S. military base in a remote part of Hungary.

Mr. Matyuc, who has direct knowledge of ongoing negotiations with U.S. diplomats, said the opponents of Saddam Hussein will be accompanied by about 2,000 U.S. military personnel and trainers.

He said the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary delivered details of the training plan to the Hungarian Defense Ministry on Tuesday. He said the plan was signed by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

However Mr. Matyuc said Hungary has made clear that it will not allow the trainees to include combat units, because of what he calls "security concerns" and logistics problems.

Mr. Matyuc said the people to be trained for up to three months are mainly former military personnel and other experts, who U.S. officials want to include in a new administration if Saddam Hussein is removed from power. "They could be translators, they could be people who can help [understand] the local traditions, and stuff like this," he said. "Their role is taking part in the future in the civil administration [of Iraq], when it will re-start."

Pending Hungarian Parliamentary approval, the first group of trainers and trainees could arrive in January or February.

But some people who live near the U.S. base in the rural village of Taszar, about 200 kilometers southwest of Budapest, are not very pleased with these developments.

The acting mayor of Taszar, Tibor Mercz, says there is concern this otherwise quiet and peaceful town of just over 2,000 people will become a target for terrorist attacks.

He says Taszar's schoolteachers and parents are already training children to be aware of suspicious looking people.

Mayor Mercz said the children have been taught that if they notice a person with strange behavior or someone who is not known in Taszar, they should notify their teachers right away.

Mr. Mercz wants the government to adopt additional security measures to protect the village.

Defense Ministry official Peter Matyuc said the Government will do all it can to minimize the risks of hosting thousands of Iraqi dissidents. He says last week Hungary's Defense Minister, Ferenc Juhasz, told mayors of villages and towns in the area that in order to reduce the risks none of the Iraqi trainees will be allowed to leave the military base.

"The camp will be guarded by the Hungarian army and by the U.S. army," Mr. Matyuc said. "And the Minister told last week the mayors of Taszar and the neighboring villages and towns that of course the intelligence services of the Hungarian army and the Hungarian State and the U.S. army and the United States will work together to minimize the security problems."

The expected arrival of the Iraqis comes amid U.S. and international criticism that Hungary has not met all its commitments since joining NATO in 1999.

That was under the previous government. The new Prime Minister, Peter Medgyessy, told VOA in an interview recently that his country wants to change that perception by taking steps like supporting a possible U.S.-led attack on Iraq and participating in the global war against terrorism.