By Armen Zakarian
Armenia will send a small detachment of its troops to the former Yugoslav province of Kosovo this August on its first-ever peace-keeping mission abroad, military officials in Yerevan announced on Thursday.
General Mikael Melkonian, head of the external relations department at the Armenian Defense Ministry, said a 30-strong platoon of Armenia’s Greek-trained peace-keeping battalion will serve in the territory under a United Nations mandate.
Kosovo, a former autonomous region in the Yugoslav republic of Serbia, has been run as a U.N. protectorate since 1999 when NATO bombing ended Serbian crackdown on its predominantly ethnic Albanian population.
“We are happy to announce that Armenia will soon join those countries of the world that participate in peace-keeping operations,” Melkonian said. The announcement came at a special event organized by the UN office in Yerevan to mark the Peacekeeper’s Day, a UN holiday.
The UN peace-keeping force currently numbers some 37,000 soldiers from 89 countries deployed in 14 hot spots around the world.
That Armenia will dispatch peace-keepers to Kosovo was first publicly announced by NATO Secretary General George Robertson during his visit to Yerevan earlier this month. Robertson welcomed the Armenian government’s readiness to commit troops for multinational missions abroad.
It is expected that the Armenians will be a part of the Greek peace-keeping contingent in Kosovo. Greece has played a key role in the formation of the Armenian peace-keeping battalion by providing substantial technical and financial support. More than 50 Armenian servicemen have undergone special training in Greece.
The battalion, which took part in NATO-led military exercises in Georgia last year, has also received assistance from the United States. Its commander, Captain Artak Tonoyan, told RFE/RL that that the unit currently has only one company of about a hundred soldiers and officers. He said a second company will be formed in the near future.
The Armenian military recruits personnel for the battalion on the contractual basis. The peace-keepers must have already served in the armed forces. Basic knowledge of English is also a requirement.