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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Noise, Fuel Dumping Anger Kyrgyz

APA U.S. military plane taking off from the Manas air base outside Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek, late last week.
MRAMORNAYA, Kyrgyzstan -- For many in this ramshackle village just outside the last U.S. base in Central Asia, news that the Americans may be leaving hasn't come a moment too soon.

Villagers voice grievances about pollution, airplane noise and the killing of a Kyrgyz citizen by a U.S. Air Force serviceman. Some also fear that the U.S. presence could drag their country into a regional conflict.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev took Washington by surprise this month by announcing the closure of the Manas air base, which the United States wants as a springboard for sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan.

Bakiyev's government has accused the United States of refusing to pay enough for the base and has gotten a better offer from Russia. But the opposition of ordinary Kyrgyz to the base would make it easier to evict the Americans.

Bakiyev is under pressure because of the deepening economic crisis and is expected to call an early presidential election this year. The injection of Russian cash could help him prop up his popularity through increased social spending.

One of the most contentious issues surrounding the base is the fatal shooting of truck driver Alexander Ivanov in late 2006 as a routine security check was conducted on his vehicle. U.S. officials claimed that Ivanov threatened the serviceman with a knife.

Bakiyev has cited the case as a reason for closing Manas.

Ivanov's widow, Marina Ivanova, said she is angry that the senior airman responsible for her husband's death has not been held accountable and said the $55,000 she received from the U.S. government as compensation is inadequate. She wants the base closed but worries that it may make it more difficult to win satisfaction.

"Now the base is going to be removed," Ivanova said. "Should I still expect these matters to be addressed favorably and fairly?"

Villagers in Mramornaya say fuel dumped by aircraft landing at Manas is causing skin conditions and other illnesses while killing off their crops.

"We used to have pears, apples and tomatoes growing here," said Zima Osmonova, a history teacher. "Now, all the trees here have dried out, and the crops don't grow any longer."

Osmonova also complained about the plane noise.

"If there was an earthquake, I wouldn't know the difference," she said.

Some villagers also are concerned that the base could one day be used to launch a strike on Iran, prompting a retaliatory attack against Kyrgyzstan.

Military spokesman Major Damien Pickart said that on the very rare occasions U.S. aircraft have jettisoned fuel it was done at such high altitudes that it did not jeopardize human health or crops.

And the noisiest planes flying overhead are the civilian Soviet-era aircraft using Kyrgyzstan's main international airport located just next to the base, he said.

The military said U.S. volunteers have raised about $200,000 and spent more than 50,000 hours helping communities like Mramornaya, where they helped renovate the school.

That has done little to placate the Kyrgyz authorities, who insist that the United States ignored repeated demands for an increase on the $17.4 million currently paid in annual rent for the base. The United States says it contributes a total of $150 million every year to the local economy.

Russia recently stepped in to offer Kyrgyzstan $2.15 billion in aid and loans. The financial support for this impoverished former Soviet nation was widely seen as being behind Bakiyev's announcement on closing the base.

The United States set up Manas after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks with Moscow's grudging approval. But Russia has since increasingly bridled at the American military presence in what it sees as its rightful sphere of influence.

Senior Kyrgyz officials insist that the decision to close the base is irreversible, and the parliament is scheduled to approve the closure Thursday.