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Yugoslavia: Europeans Set to Take Military Control In Kosovo

NATO has invited a fledgling European military alliance, the Eurocorps, to take day-to-day command of the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo for six months. RFE/RL correspondent Roland Eggleston reports from Munich that the details of the plan still need to be worked out.

Munich, 2 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Eurocorps is made up of troops from five countries: Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, and Luxembourg, and is currently under the command of a Spanish general. Until now, it has existed mostly on paper although in theory it can call on 60,000 soldiers for defense operations.

NATO has now invited the corps to take day-to-day control of the 44,000-strong peacekeeping force in Kosovo. It will assume the role in April and hold it until September.

A NATO spokesman (unnamed) in Brussels describes the move as an important step forward in giving Europe a more significant role in international military projects.

The spokesman says Europe wants to be a full partner of the U.S. and NATO in international operations. The role in Kosovo, he says, is a move toward making that ambition a reality.

NATO has overall control of the Kosovo operation and this is not expected to change. NATO's supreme commander, U.S. General Wesley Clark, will remain responsible for the peacekeeping force, but the five members of the Eurocorps will control day-to-day operations.

U.S. troops in Kosovo will come under the command of the Eurocorps during the six-month operation. The Russian contingent in Kosovo is expected to do the same.

The Eurocorps will assign 350 officers to the headquarters of the Kosovo operation. Other countries which are not members of the Eurocorps, particularly Britain, will also provide staff. The United States and NATO will also assign officers to the corps.

The German Defense Ministry tells RFE/RL that several details remained to be resolved. These will be discussed in Munich this weekend by NATO Secretary-General George Robertson, the secretary-general of Europe's common security organization, Javier Solana, and the defense ministers of the United States, Britain, and Germany.

The men will meet in private on the sidelines of the annual "Wehrkunde" conference on security policy. The situation in Kosovo is the main theme of the conference.

The NATO spokesman says Britain, France, and Germany all pressed hard for the Eurocorps to be given the opportunity to run the day-to-day operations. All are advocates of a stronger European defense role, although they say they do not wish to undermine NATO's supremacy in military matters.

Ultimately, they believe some international operations could be undertaken by European ground forces, with the United States' role confined to air power and electronic intelligence.

In December, the European Union approved proposals for the creation of a European rapid reaction force which could be dispatched to crisis situations within 60 days and remain in place for two years.

Britain, France, and Germany believe a basic force of about 50,000 troops could be operational by 2003.

Defense experts say the need for a stronger European military presence was evident during the NATO operation in Kosovo last year. They say the crisis made plain the weakness of the Europeans in almost all military fields and its dependence on the United States when a crisis erupts.