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Sunday, January 30, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Azerbaijanis Rebuild Army With Foreign Help

AP

BAKU, Azerbaijan - Americans are here to teach the art of war. So are Turks, Iranians, Afghans and Russians.

After losing a quarter of its territory in a six-year war with Armenians and with more than 1 million of their countrymen homeless, Azerbaijan has sought help in rebuilding its army.

But the forces being trained by outsiders appear to serve rival interests in the former Soviet republic, which could lead to more factional conflict.

Some instructors are here unofficially, like two dozen Americans said to have been hired by a U.S. oil company as a condition of winning a contract. Others have been sent by governments.

THE TIDE TURNS

Enthusiastic militia leaders with little military training led Azerbaijani troops to early victories in the war over Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly Armenian region inside Azerbaijan. But when the Armenians counterattacked, their superior training and leadership became evident.

Ethnic Armenians took control of all Nagorno-Karabakh, then began capturing Azerbaijani territory. Tens of thousands of people have died in the fighting and hundreds of thousands of ethnic Azerbaijanis have fled.

Now, the Azerbaijani government is trying to address the shortage of combat-trained soldiers.

At Hacikabul, 80 miles southeast of Baku, an old Sukhoi fighter-bomber atop a concrete column marks a training camp inherited from the Soviet army.

"Americans? Here are only Turkish instructors," an Azerbaijani volunteer said. "But I'll take you to the American camp."

A visit to a walled compound six miles away did not turn up any Americans. "They are not here right now, but will come again soon," an Azerbaijani officer said.

THEY ARE AMONG THE BEST

Inside one of the brick buildings, some recruits practiced breaking down machine guns while others were learning about explosives or how to read maps. They were instructed by Azerbaijani officers said to have been trained by the Americans.

"These are picked from among 6,000 best fighters," said the commander.

Diplomats in Baku said 1,000 soldiers were being trained at the compound by 20 to 25 Americans.

The diplomats said the Americans were hired by Mega Oil USA of Atlanta as a condition of obtaining rights to pump oil. The agreement called for Mega to spend $10 million to $15 million on training the Azerbaijani unit, they said.

Mega does not have a listed telephone number in Atlanta. J. Philip Self, an Atlanta lawyer registered with the state government as the company's agent, said he no longer represented Mega but was not authorized to say who could speak for it.

Many people think the American-trained force is to be a special guard for President Geidar Aliev, the former Communist Party boss who is consolidating his position after regaining power last summer.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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