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Canadian Forces seek new staging base for Afghanistan Add to ...

The Canadian military is casting about for another staging base for Afghanistan to replace makeshift arrangements in Cyprus - where the Forces relocated after Canada was kicked out of the United Arab Emirates late last year.

A move is not certain, but the Canadian Forces are searching for another, possibly closer, location from which to move troops and supplies in and out of Kandahar.

Canada was asked to leave Camp Mirage near Dubai in the UAE last fall because Ottawa refused to grant the Gulf state's air carriers sufficient additional landing slots at Toronto's Pearson airport. The dispute has soured relations between Canada and the UAE and led the Arab nation to impose a visa fee of up to $1,000 on Canadian visitors.

Canada is using two civilian airports in southern Cyprus - Paphos and Larnaca - to shuttle soldiers and other personnel in and out of Afghanistan. In Cyprus, the Canadians are housed in hotels. The operation is a pay-as-you-go contract, and cargo is shipped separately into Afghanistan via Germany.

The Forces are eyeing other locations that could offer more benefits, including lower costs, the ability to handle more volume or offer more flexibility. Defence sources wouldn't identify possible alternatives, but it's believed options could include another Gulf nation or one of the countries north of Afghanistan that diplomats refer to as "the Stans."

Sources have previously told The Globe and Mail the cost of Canada having to leave Camp Mirage and pay for new staging locations could run as high as $300-million. A Defence source said on Wednesday part of the reason for seeking a new base would be to reduce this bill.

The UAE did not charge Ottawa for the use of Camp Mirage or the nearby port during Canada's stay of more than nine years there.

Cyprus is much farther from Afghanistan than Dubai, and the costs are relatively steep for Canada there. Ottawa would like a closer staging base with access to a port for shipborne cargo.

A dispute that echoes the fight between Canada and the UAE is playing out in Europe, where Lufthansa is fighting Emirates airline's efforts to get more landing rights in Germany.

This latest spat between the German carrier and Emirates has Lufthansa lobbying to deny its Mideast rival landing positions at a Stuttgart airport as well as Berlin's new terminal, due to open next year.

Air Canada chief operating officer Duncan Dee said Lufthansa's fight demonstrates Canada is not the only country resisting the demands of Emirates. "[It's]further confirmation that Canada was not only correct in what it did but also that it is not alone in wanting to ensure fair access to air rights," Mr. Dee said.

Lufthansa spokesman Martin Riecken said Emirates needs to be reined in because of its strategy of "unbridled growth." Both Air Canada and its German ally say they believe Emirates would unfairly eat into their long-haul business.

Andrew Parker, senior vice-president of international affairs at Emirates, said he remains optimistic about a breakthrough in Germany.

Canada's aviation policy is far more restrictive than that of Germany, he said in an interview.

"The German government has been open and positive toward Emirates," Mr. Parker said. "It is chalk and cheese in terms of Germany compared with Canada. There is a huge difference. But the global aviation map should not be determined by Lufthansa and its Star Alliance partners," including Air Canada.

He added that despite Canada's refusal to offer Emirates additional landing rights, there was significant sympathy in the Harper cabinet - "at least half a dozen ministers" - for letting the UAE carrier expand in Canada because "they understood the importance and breadth and depth of the UAE relationship."

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