More peackeeping, closer NATO ties

BELGRADE -- The Defense Ministry has sent a draft bill to government in a bid to boost Serbian participation in peacekeeping missions.

Šutanovac is interviewed by Tanjug news agency (Tanjug)
Šutanovac is interviewed by Tanjug news agency (Tanjug)

Defense Minister Dragan Šutanovac said on Sunday that a draft law on the participation of the Serbian Army (VS) and other defense forces in multinational peacekeeping operations outside Serbia's borders had been presented to the Cvetković cabinet.

“The Serbian Army's participation in UN peacekeeping operations, which would be a lot bigger in scope than it has been so far, is not only in the interests of the defense system itself, but also the state as a whole, and it is aimed at strengthening our foreign political capacities,” Šutanovac said in an interview with Tanjug.

He said that necessary certificates had already been obtained for the peacekeeping operations for the members of the Military Medical Academy (VMA) medical team; part of the team has already attended a course in Norway.

Šutanovac said that members of the Serbian defense system “will be ready to participate in peacekeeping operations as early as this year, in keeping with the decisions of authorized organs.”

Turning to NATO's Partnership for Peace activities, Šutanovac said that Belgrade has still not opened an office with NATO to establish its mission. He expressed expectations that the mission would start work this year.

“That is not only the Defense Ministry’s problem, it's a shared problem between the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry,” said he.

The minister added that a security information agreement had been signed with NATO at the beginning of October last year, and that, after sorting technical problems, the process of opening the mission began.

According to him, Serbia’s wish, "like all those who have the mission and are not NATO members", is to represent Serbian state interests, the defense system, and to participate in numerous Alliance committees of experts.

On the matter of developing relations between NATO and Serbia, attacks on Serbia began in March ten years ago, Šutanovac said “that was a tragic day, when NATO did something for which absolutely no one in Serbia has understanding”.

“But, regardless of memories causes by reminders of that operation, we have to move forward. It’s unnatural that the United Kingdom and Germany developed relations with each other after World War II more quickly than we have managed to develop relations with NATO,” according to him.

Šutanovac also stated that it was clear “Serbia has some scruples in relation to NATO,” but he was still “deeply convinced that the majority opinion among members of the VS is that we have to move in the direction of integration”.

He said he was also convinced that the prevailing opinion among VS members was that “we have to exchange knowledge, experience and skills and exercise together with the Alliance—one of the biggest and strongest systems in the world”.

Zone stable

On Monday, Šutanovac stated that the security in the Ground Safety Zone (GSZ) along the administrative line with Kosovo "is at a satisfactory level, even though there still is a possibility of incidents".

"Certainly, the possibility of incidents still exists, particularly from the other side of the administrative line, but we do not have such information as yet, and we are monitoring the situation in the whole region," he told Tanjug.

The minister stated that three units of the Serbian Army (VS) are maintaining peace and stability in the zone "at a high level".

Šutanovac pointed out that the cooperation with KFOR members in Kosovo continues on a technical level and that regular meetings are held at a lower level of command, long with and simultaneous patrols in the GSZ.

He expressed his expectation that Cepotina military base, located about five kilometers from Bujanovac, will be completed soon, underscoring that this facility will be a very important center for security in southern Serbia and for the control of the area as a whole.