Czech soldiers to guard NATO headquarters in Macedonia

A Macedonian soldier on duty

World heads of states and prominent international figures have all expressed their relief at Monday's news that Albanian rebels had signed a document committing them to handing over their weapons to NATO troops in Macedonia. The NATO Secretary General, George Robertson, said it showed that there was light at the end of a tunnel and he believed it to be an important step in the normalisation of life in Macedonia.

A Macedonian soldier on duty
The Czech President, Vaclav Havel, who has been closely monitoring the unrest has also welcomed the signing saying that it would enable Macedonia to continue in its development of democracy and human rights. NATO ambassadors met in Brussels on Wednesday to decide whether or not to go ahead with the deployment of around 3,500 troops which would be used to man weapons collection points.

Dita Asieduspoke to the 1st Czech Deputy Defence Minister, Stefan Fule, to find out how the Czech Republic could contribute to a planned NATO peace-keeping mission in Macedonia:

"Let me tell you that we are both politically and militarily ready to be engaged in the operation in Macedonia."

What exactly does that mean? How long would it take for Czech soldiers to get to Macedonia?

"Exactly five days. We are watching the situation very closely with the General Chief-of-Staff with whom I am in hourly contact ...I also had a Commander of our unit here. We made sure that the five days is the maximum time needed for our 120 soldiers to get to Skopje. We even moved some of the equipment to the KFOR, to Kosovo, to really be ready to deploy as soon as possible."

What sort of training have these soldiers received and how long have you been preparing them?

"We have been preparing them from the very beginning of this operation. I have to say that on the basis of this training, that our soldiers are really prepared. They have a very unique mission. They will be deployed in Skopje and they will be protecting a headquarter of the NATO operation which will be in British hands. So, it is a very specific task, our soldiers are well trained and there is a very good communication line between our and British soldiers and let me also say that being a part of the headquarter operation in Skopje is for us a sign of the trust and the excellent co-operation between our peacekeepers and British peacekeepers."

That must mean that Czech soldiers really are appreciated by NATO members?

"I think it's also an appreciation of the Czech active involvement in finding a solution to the crisis in both Bosnia Herzegovina and in Kosovo. For the Czech Republic, it is in fact the third operation as far as the Balkans are concerned, so there is expertise and the political support for it and there is this trust, this prestigious place of the Czech peacekeepers in this operation."

How long will Czech soldiers be expected to stay in Macedonia?

"We very much count on the thirty-day mandate of this operation, as agreed in the North Atlantic Council. Of course, when taking into account the time of deployment, the time before we assume operational tasks and so on, we hope that our soldiers will not stay longer than sixty days."