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Hungary Agrees to Allow Military Training for Iraqi Exiles - 2002-12-18

Hungary's socialist-led government has approved Wednesday an American request to use a U.S. military base in Hungary for training up to 3,000 Iraqi exiles.

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Gal said that the Iraqi exiles will be allowed to receive training at a United States military base in the village of Taszar, about 200 kilometers southwest of Budapest.

Under current plans, the Iraqis will arrive in two waves, starting in January or February, for training programs that will last about three months.

According to the Hungarian defense ministry, the Iraqis will be accompanied by about 2,000 U.S. military personnel. The ministry said that, at Hungary's insistence, no combat training will take place at the base.

Hungarian officials say the Iraqis will serve as translators, interpreters and guides for any international military action against Iraq, and will also help to set up a new civil administration if and when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is overthrown.

Tibor Mercz, the acting mayor of Taszar, a village of over 2,000 people, has expressed concern that having the Iraqis in the region could leave it vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

Hungarian defense officials, in an effort to allay those concerns, have said the Iraqis will not be allowed to leave the U.S. base. In addition, they say troops from both countries will guard the area and Hungarian and U.S. intelligence services will closely cooperate to prevent any problems.

Government spokesman Gal has said that Hungary agreed to allow the Iraqis to train in the country in an effort to contribute to what he describes as "the international fight against terrorism."

Hungary in the past has been criticized by NATO for not meeting the military obligations that were expected from the country when it joined the alliance in 1999.