Date: Tue, 17 Mar 98 11:23:03 CST
Subject: Turkey seeks to host rapid intervention force for Balkans
From: Press Agency Ozgurluk <email@example.com>
ANKARA, March 16 (AFP)—Turkey wants to set up a multi-national rapid intervention force for the troubled Balkans region to deal with crisis situations, a top Turkish general said Monday.
Military officials and diplomats from the United States, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania and Slovenia held a meeting here on Monday with Turkish authorities on Ankara's proposal.
Turkey's arch rival Greece refused to take part in the meeting, a foreign ministry official told AFP. Athens has also recently proposed the creation of a similar force.
“The creation of this multi-national peace-keeping force for the Balkans, that we want to host, will be a milestone for security and stability in the whole region,” General Cevik Bir, deputy chief of the Turkish general staff, told the meeting of visiting foreign teams.
“Today's meeting is the first concrete development toward the formation of this force,” the foreign ministry official said.
The move came amid renewed concern over security in the Balkans as Serb authorities continue their crackdown on ethnic Albanians in the southern Yugoslav region of Kosovo.
Turkish officials said the initiative had no direct link with the Kosovo crisis and dated back to last year.
If the Turkish proposal is endorsed, it is suggested that a multi-national brigade of between 3,000 and 5,000 troops from the United States and several Balkan countries would be based at Edirne, a town in eastern Turkey near the Bulgarian and Greek borders.
The force would be created under the Partnership for Peace program, which was formed after the former Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 to coordinate cooperation between NATO allies and former communist states.
“Today's meeting is not aimed at forming an alliance against a third side, but seeks to share an understanding to get organised to support regional and world peace,” Bir said.
But analysts said the Turkish initiative was likely to face opposition from Greece, which also is interested in hosting such a force.
Greek government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said in Athens on March 10 that Defence Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos had written to a number of regional countries and the United States, calling for a Balkans rapid intervention military force.
Reppas said Tsohatzopoulos had written “15 to 20 days ago” to Albania, Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Italy, Romania, Slovenia, and the United States about the idea. Greece is ready to host the force, he said.
“Although Turkey favours Greece's inclusion into the process, Athens wants to bypass Ankara. That's the summary of Turkish-Greek relations,” the Turkish foreign ministry official said.
Although they are both members of NATO, Turkey and Greece are involved in a number of disputes over the Aegean Sea's sovereignty and the Cyprus problem.
Ankara says it has historical responsibilities toward the Balkans as the area was part of the Turkish Ottoman empire for centuries.
Turkey gave diplomatic support to Bosnian Moslems and Croatia against the Serbs during the wars in former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995.
Turkish officials have called for a peaceful solution to the Kosovo crisis that respects Yugoslavia's territorial integrity but which also recognises autonomy for the Albanians.