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Iraqi Exiles Arrive in Hungary for Training in Case of War with Iraq - 2003-01-30

The first group of volunteers from Iraqi opposition to President Saddam Hussein have arrived in Hungary Wednesday for training to support a possible U.S. led war in Iraq. The Iraqis will be stationed at the Taszar air base, 200 kilometers southwest of Budapest. Hungary's Ministry of Defence and the United States military confimred that volunteers will be trained for non-combat duty in case of military action in their country.

Major Robert Stern, the spokesman of the American training group refused to say how many volunteers have arrived at the air base. "The volunteers have arrived here for their training in Taszar, and we are looking forward to starting the training program within the next few days. I am not going into the route of the flight into Taszar but they arrived safely into Taszar today," he said.

Peter Matyuc, a general director at the Hungarian Defence Ministry only confirmed that "dozens" of Iraqi exiles from an undisclosed departture point have landed on the Hungarian soil.

Hungarian officials have said that in total up to 3,000 Iraqi exiles will come to Hungary in two waves, accompanied by about 2,000 U.S. military personnel.

Major Stern explained that the Iraqi exiles, which were recruited by America from opposition groups around the world, will be trained to support the U.S.-led coalition if it comes to a war against Iraq.

"They are going to be trained in basic skills such as self defense," he said. "And they are also going to be trained in support functions such as translation and liaison work in support of the coalition forces in the event of potential conflict with Iraq."

Hungarians seem not pleased with the arrival of the Iraqi opposition force. The acting mayor of Taszar, Tibor Mercz, said there is concern this otherwise quiet and peaceful town of just over 2,000 people will become a target for terrorist attacks.

In addittion an opinion poll released this week shows that about 80 percent of Hungary's population opposes a war against Iraq while two-third is against the training of Iraqi exiles in Taszar.

The air base in Taszar has been used by the U.S. military since December 1995, as a logistics post for the NATO-led peacekeeping operations in the nearby Balkans.