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Baltic States: Military Cooperation Grows Among Three Countries

Tallinn, 15 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- When Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian defense ministers met last weekend in Riga, the central topic was Baltic military cooperation.

Estonian Defense Minister Andrus Oove says that themes of the meeting were: developing the Baltic joint peacekeeping battalion, BaltBat; conducting joint naval operations; managing a joint air control system; and drafting a weaponry standardization process.

Oovel says that BaltBat, in addition to its part in Bosnia's peace Implementation Force (IFOR), has an important role in Baltic military cooperation and in European security.

He said that an Estonian military company soon will be sent to Lebanon as a part of a Norwegian battalion. Lithuanian and Latvian units of BaltBat will be sent to Bosnia again, where they will serve in Danish and Swedish battalions.

On Saturday, Baltic defense ministers signed a joint declaration on naval cooperation. Oovel said, however, that there's no intention to form a regular joint naval unit any time soon.

To simplify cooperation on Baltic defense forces, he said, it's important to standardize armaments. This doesn't mean, he said, that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania must buy their weapons from the same firm. Compatibility is the key, he said.

Oovel stressed that the Baltic countries don't intend to establish a Baltic military block. Their priority is to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Any joint action of the three Baltic armies against an aggressor, he said, could only be a political decision. The Baltic countries need to establish a cooperative structure that would make such a decision possible.