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13 January, 1999
A supplementary protocol to a treaty establishing a multinational peacekeeping force in southeast Europe was signed at a meeting in Athens yesterday.
The protocol determines a number of issues, which had remained unresolved, including the location of the command headquarters and the presidency of the force's political and military committee.
It was signed by the defense ministers of Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Italy, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Slovenia, Romania's chief of staff, as well as the US and Turkish ambassadors in Athens.
Slovenia and the US are participating in the multinational force as observers.
According to the protocol, the force's headquarters will alternate every four years among the participating NATO and Partnership for Peace (PfP) countries in the order of Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, and Greece. The command will be assigned to each of the countries for a two-year term. Turkey will be first, followed by Greece.
The presidency and headquarters of the political and military committee will be held by each of the participating countries for a two-year term. Greece will hold the first presidency, followed by Romania.
The force's headquarters is expected to start operating this summer, while the participating countries hope to hold the first exercise at the end of 1999.
The participating countries will ratify the agreement in the near future. According to a special clause, the treaty will enter into force when it has been ratified by four of the participating countries.
National Defense Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos said the force would serve as a tool for the international community for tackling problems of security and stability in the region, based on international law as applied by international organizations.
Italian Defense Minister Carlo Scognamiglio said the multinational force constituted a "military capability" provided by Europeans to the international community.
FYROM Defense Minister Nicola Kljusev said the force expressed "the goodwill of the participating countries to overcome the historical conflicts of the past".
In addition, the defense ministers at the meeting expressed concern about developments in the troubled Yugoslav province of Kosovo, while all expressed support for a peaceful settlement of the problem through negotiations between the opposing sides.
Mr. Tsohatzopoulos called on the international community to exert pressure now, rather than later, aimed at finding a peaceful political solution granting autonomy for the Albanian population of the province "within the limits of Yugoslavia".
He added that the demand of ethnic Albanians for self-administration was a just one.
Both Mr. Tsohatzopoulos and his Bulgarian counterpart, Georgi Ananiev clarified that the SE Europe multinational force was not ready to intervene immediately in the Kosovo crisis.
Mr. Ananiev expressed the hope that the crisis would soon be resolved so that the force would not have to be used.
Albanian Defense Minister Luan Hajdaraga said the Kosovo problem was a problem of the entire Balkan region, since if it spread, it would inevitably affect all the countries.
Mr. Hajdaraga appealed for any political solution to be based on respect for the principles of self-determination and the inviolability of present borders.
Mr. Scognamiglio said Italy had taken the decision to participate in both the SE Europe force and the NATO multinational force in FYROM, which will provide assistance to OSCE verifiers in Kosovo if the need arises because of its proximity to the Balkans.
He added that Italy would be directly and adversely affected in the event of instability in the Balkan region.
On its part, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) issued an announcement claiming that the new multinational force is pitted against the peoples of the eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans.
" Mr. Tsohatzopoulos' statements, that it is a peace force, turn black into white and cover the true aggressive and warlike character of the new military corps. Another link has been added to the chain of dangers threatening the Greek people, and underlines the even more so the need for a powerful resistance to NATO's plans."
Source: Athens News Agency