BBC News on Tuesday, April 01, 2003
The United States has suspended a training programme for Iraqi dissidents in Hungary, without explaining why. The programme at the Taszar airbase was originally designed to prepare 3,000 exiles for non-combat roles in Iraq with the title of Free Iraqi Forces.
Local media report that just 80 volunteers have finished their training.
The first group of about 50 landed in the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr about a week ago to support US units delivering humanitarian aid.
A spokesman for the Training Task Force running the camp, Major Robert Stern, declined to comment on suggestions that the programme had ended because of a lack of volunteers.
Hungarians oppose war
The second group, said to number 26, finished their training on Friday.
“I can confirm that the second group of volunteers has departed,” Major Stern said.
“Our focus is now to integrate this second group of volunteers with the coalition forces in iraq so they can begin their work there.”
Hungarian media reports said the tent camp at the airbase, erected in January, was now being dismantled.
A Hungarian Government spokesman told the state-run MTI news agency that the end of the programme brought an end to Hungary’s contribution to the war in Iraq.
Recent polls indicate that at least 70% of Hungarians oppose the war.
Last week opposition leaders asked the government to withdraw Hungary’s name from a list of countries suporting the US-led action.
The Hungarian Government agreed to the training programme on the grounds that the dissidents were not prepared for combat.
“We were told at first that they were training to be translators, then we were told they were civilian administrators,” the mayor of the nearby town of Kaposvar told the BBC.
A trainee said his job would be to carry out civilian duties, providing a point of contact between coalition forces and Iraqi civilians.
“I’ll be helping international relief organisations and the Americans,” he said.
Officials at the camp denied the trainees would work as spies.
The volunteers were recruited from Iraqi opposition groups around the world, although most were living in the United States.