Czechs say want no Russian soldiers at radar site

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PRAGUE, Oct 25 (Reuters) Senior Czech politicians are angry over Washington's suggestion that Russians be allowed to staff a radar station in the former Soviet satellite.

The radar would form part of a proposed US missile shield in Europe that sparked a row between Washington and Moscow.

''Perhaps a Russian expert may be there but in no case a Russian soldier. I simply do not want any Russian soldiers on Czech territory,'' said Jan Vidim, head of the lower house defence committee.

The idea has rekindled memories of decades of Soviet occupation.

The Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 and installed a hardline Communist leadership that ended in 1989. ''A Russian soldier was an occupier,'' Vidim said.

The station would form part of a US missile shield in Europe aimed at intercepting missiles from ''rogue states'' such as North Korea and Iran. Russia has said the shield would hurt its interests and the real aim is to track Russian territory.

Visiting Prague this week, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that if the Czechs agreed, the US would consider allowing a Russian presence at the station.

Czech upper house chairman Premysl Sobotka told daily Lidove Noviny he doubted parliament would agree to any Russian mission.

Minister for legislation Cyril Svoboda, of the centrist Christian Democrats, and the opposition Social Democrats also said they opposed the idea.

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek declined to comment. The Czech defence ministry said the proposal to allow a Russian presence at the radar station was in its early stages and had yet to be negotiated.

''Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova pointed out the sensitivity of this topic among the Czech public,'' ministry spokesman Jan Pejsek said.

''Then we were assured (by the Americans) it was only an option without any concrete shape.'' Gates said no firm proposals would be made to Russia without Czech government 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 proposed to the US to share an existing radar in Afghanistan instead of building the shield, which would be fully operational in 2013 at the earliest.

REUTERS SKB KP1448

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