With a peace agreement in the Balkans underway, between 40 and 110 Slovak servicemen may be headed to Kosovo to help with the de-mining and rebuilding of the war-torn region, Slovak officials reported.
But the cash-strapped Slovak government has said they may only be able to send the extra manpower if international alliances pay for the costs involved.
Defence Minister Pavol Kanis, when contacted by The Spectator, said that under UN leadership and cost-coverage, Slovak soldiers would definitely take part in the mission.
"If the mission is held under the auspices of EU or NATO, however, the costs are every state's own affair, and for us it would be a serious problem," Kanis said.
He added, on the other hand, that the cabinet has achieved a political agreement in support of the country's participation. "We will look for the best solution," he added.
Slovakia was asked in early June to consider participation in the KFOR international peace keeping force in Kosovo under the wings of the NATO and United Nations. Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, who is serving as a special UN envoy to Kosovo, said he supports the involvement.
"Participation of the Slovak soldiers would be very welcomed, because sappers will be needed there and our sappers are well known from the previous missions," Kukan told The Slovak Spectator at a June 7 press conference
If deployed to Kosovo, Slovak engineers would be responsible primarily for de-mining works in the area, as well as road and bridge constructions and maintenance.
They would be the second Slovak army engineer force sent to the region. On June 1, parliament approved the deployment of 40 Slovak engineers to Albania to join the 8,000-member Allied Force operation there. They will leave for Albania in about a month, Defence Ministry officials said.
The cabinet of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda allocated 64 million crowns ($1.42 million) for the first wave of engineers. They are currently training in Nitra and are expected to assist Belgian, Dutch, and British troops in repairs to surface infrastructure, in road maintenance and the erection of tents, in providing humanitarian aid and health care for Kosovo refugees, and in de-mining activities.
The 110-man engineering unit which may join them in the Balkans has already been trained for a mission to Africa, which the UN is scheduling in the near future, Kanis said. He added that another option would be to split the unit and send them to both places.
"We [Slovak Army] were asked to release this unit for the mission in Mauritania. Unfortunately we don't have so many soldiers with special training to satisfy all the requests [of NATO and the UN}. We'll have to choose priorities," he said.
14. Jun 1999 at 0:00 | Ivan Remiaš