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Southeastern Europe Forms Peace Unit

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

SKOPJE, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Sept. 30, 1998 – The United States will provide technical assistance for a new peacekeeping unit of about 3,000 military troops from this nation, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania.

Speaking at the Southeastern Europe Defense Ministerial here Sept. 25, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said the new 13- company brigade will be available for conflict prevention, peace support and humanitarian operations. The United States will be an observer; it will not contribute forces to the peacekeeping brigade, U.S. military officials said.

Slovenia also will serve as an observer, and three NATO nations - - Greece, Turkey, and Italy will provide members of the new unit with guidance and other assistance. Representatives of all nine nations met here Sept. 26 and signed an agreement creating the Multinational Peace Force Southeastern Europe.

The defense ministerial, the third such conference in the region since the end of the Cold War, was aimed at preventing conflict and promoting security through openness and cooperation. Ongoing trouble in neighboring Balkan states exemplifies the need for trust and openness, Cohen said.

"I think that all recognize there are still a number of people in the region who would rather dig fresh graves than bury old hatreds," he told attendees. "In Kosovo, the fires of hate fuel the relentless march of ethnic violence. The time has come to face this crisis directly.

"In Bosnia," Cohen continued, "we must maintain our resolve and remain committed to the Dayton Peace accord. In Albania, violence in Tirana is a stark reminder of how much remains to be done."

The secretary noted that the multinational unit will demonstrate that countries in southeastern Europe can work together to improve regional security. It also may inspire other countries to build similar security structures, he said.

"We have looked at this past century and we have seen a century of conflict, with animosity and hatred," the secretary said. "With the new century approaching, we have the opportunity to build a time where we have cooperation, openness and stability."

The new brigade, guided by a civilian steering committee, will promote civilian control of the military, Cohen said. It will provide opportunities for military-to-military cooperation and give participating countries firsthand experience training in a NATO environment.

"Every time our forces train together," Cohen said, "every time we come together for discussions such as this, we understand each other more. With understanding comes trust, and that same trust then generates security."

Creating the peacekeeping brigade was just one agenda topic at the ministerial. The defense leaders also discussed steps to improve regional cooperation and security, and programs to strengthen border controls, improve Albanian weapons storage security, and provide training and instruction through Partnership for Peace.

Cohen attended the ministerial after meeting with NATO ministers in Portugal. His swing through the Balkans included meeting U.S. service members in Skopje and in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

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