Czech PM says no to Russian soldiers at radar base

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PRAGUE, Oct 25 (Reuters) The Czech Republic will not allow Russian soldiers to be stationed at a planned US radar base in the country but might permit Russian inspections, Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said today.

US Defense Minister Robert Gates touched a raw nerve during his visit to Prague this week when he said Russians might be allowed to have a presence at the radar base which would be part of a planned US missile defence shield.

''Of course there will be no Russian soldiers here, and there were never supposed to be,'' Topolanek said on Czech Television.

''If we allow (inspections) during the construction, and possibly during the operation as well, there would be inspection days by the Russian Federation, and that is an issue I think that even the opposition would allow,'' he said.

The idea of a Russian military presence on Czech soil angered a number of lawmakers who said parliament would very likely reject any such deal.

The Czechs, who were invaded by Warsaw Pact armies led by the Soviet Union in 1968, are sensitive about any foreign military presence in the country, especially Russian.

The planned shield is aimed at intercepting missiles from ''rogue states'' such as North Korea and Iran, and has sparked a row between Washington and Moscow.

Gates said no offer about a Russian presence at the radar site would be made to Moscow without prior Czech consent.

In an further attempt to appease Russia, the United States has proposed not to activate the radar until there was a proven threat, such as a missile test by Iran.

Russia has said the shield would hurt its interests and the real aim is to track Russian territory.

REUTERS AB PM2120

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