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Lasting US legacy in Kyrgyzstan

With the news that the US airbase near Manas in Kyrgyzstan is about to close, the BBC's Central Asia correspondent Rayhan Demytrie looks at those who have benefited from the US presence, and how they will manage when the base shuts.


School in Kyrgyzstan renovated by the Americans
Washington contributes $150m a year in total assistance to Kyrgyzstan

Clomping in her high heels on a shiny wooden floor, headmistress Ainura Uraliyeva is showcasing her spotless-looking school.

"This school was built in 1972 and it was never fully renovated until the Americans came.

"They have fixed everything here - the floors, the windows, doors, plumbing, lighting. They've even painted each room in a different colour," says Ainura.

This is an unusual sight for a rural school in a former Soviet country.

Turning an old rundown building into a modern-looking learning facility became possible only after the American military from the nearby Manas base helped to raise funds.

Four months of work and $100,000 (£69,000) later, the school entrance is adorned with a proud sign: "For the friendship between the peoples of Kyrgyzstan and the United States of America."

Outreach programme

US soldiers inside a plane arrive from Afghanistan at the airbase in Manas
Thousands of US soldiers pass through the base en route to Afghanistan

The nearby base has been operational since 2001. It is the main transit hub for US and Nato forces in Afghanistan.

The Americans set up a programme six years ago to help the poorest in Kyrgyzstan.

"The Manas air base outreach society is a civilian organisation. Money is donated by military personnel," says programme co-ordinator Jim Carny.

"We've helped sponsor heart surgeries for children. So far we've sponsored 129 heart surgeries. We also do small remodelling projects in orphanages and schools."

But while one village is grateful to the US military for fixing their school, the residents of another blame US over-flights for damaging their crops.

"Things were fine before the Americans arrived. They've poisoned the soil by dumping fuel. Tomatoes in my garden stopped growing, they are coming out so small," says Valya, 70, who sells potatoes in the local market.

Tatyana sells t-shirts the US troops leave behind
This is all American and very good quality - I buy it wholesale from those who sort out the garbage
Tatyana, market vendor

"Yes they've helped to fix the school but local residents saw no benefit from them. There are no jobs. I am against the Americans."

Such views are common in Kyrgyzstan. The majority of the population here favour closer ties with Russia.

So when the government announced the closure of the US base in early February, the decision found wide support.

Among its many stated reasons for closing Manas, the government's main complaint is that the Americans have not paid enough rent.

Washington contributes $150m a year in total assistance to Kyrgyzstan, which includes just $17m for Manas.

But the base provides jobs for over 600 local employees, who face unemployment once the Americans have gone.

Second hand help

And there are more still who benefit indirectly.

At the Manas refuse dump, workers sort through the waste. Much of it is put to use, including old clothing, shoes and furniture.

"This is all American and very good quality. I buy it wholesale from those who sort out the garbage," says Tatyana.

She sells t-shirts and towels that soldiers have left behind en route to Afghanistan.

The Kyrgyz government says the money and benefits generated by the American military are just a drop in the ocean for their impoverished country.

But those who have benefited from their presence are already wondering how they will cope once the Americans have gone.



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