Financial Times; Dec 19, 2002
MIDDLE EAST: Hungary permits training for Arabs
By Robert Wright in Budapest
The United States has won permission to use Hungarian territory to train up to 3,000 Arabs - mainly Iraqi opposition activists - for an invasion of Iraq.
The Hungarian cabinet agreed yesterday to the use of the US-run Taszár airbase, near Kaposvar in south-west Hungary, for the training.
According to the MTI news agency, Zoltán Gál, a government spokesman, said the first of two expected groups of trainees would arrive in January.
The cabinet decision follows a request delivered last week from Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary.
Mr Gál told reporters that training would be given in civil-military co-operation, likely to mean training in setting up civil administration after any US-led invasion of Iraq.
There would also be training in translation skills, Mr Gál said.
There has been widespread speculation that the trainees will be mainly exiled opponents of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader.
Mr Gál said only that the trainees would be Arabs currently living in Europe or the US.
The decision on the base's use was taken by the cabinet after the centre-left government decided that parliamentary approval was unnecessary and likely to be blocked by the centre-right opposition.
The opposition had claimed that allowing the training in Hungary would lay the country open to terrorist attack.
Hungary has so far been largely unaffected by international terrorism.
Ferenc Juhász, the defence minister, visited the area around the base two weeks ago to talk to residents and reassure them.
The pro-opposition newspaper Magyar Nemzet has suggested that the US prefers to use Hungary for the training because of security worries over admitting some of the opposition activists to the US.
Taszár has been used by the US since 1994, mainly as a base for peacekeeping operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
It also played a role in the Nato-led attack on Federal Yugoslavia during the 1999 Kosovo crisis.
The trainees will not be allowed to leave the base, nor will they be allowed to go directly from the base to Iraq. None of the training should be for roles in combat units.
The present government, elected in April, has sought a more active part in international military operations.
Under its centre-right predecessor, Hungary was seen as doing little to live up to its international obligations as a member of Nato, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which it joined in 1999.