Skopje plans to send additional units to the EUFOR mission in BiH and to co-operate on educational training with Kosovo.
By Klaudija Lutovska and Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Time in Skopje -- 30/04/13
The Macedonian Army contributes troops to the NATO missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and BiH. [Klaudija Lutovska/SETimes]
Macedonia is taking a proactive role to foster regional military co-operation, sending a positive signal on security and Euro-Atlantic integration efforts, experts said.
Last week, the Macedonian parliament voted unanimously to send another unit to the EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), known as Althea.
In addition, Macedonian Defence Minister Talat Dzaferi travelled to Pristina and signed an agreement with his Kosovo counterpart Agim Ceku to establish co-operation priorities.
"In a relatively short period, Macedonia has transformed from being a user to becoming a contributor to establishing peace and democracy, and will continue to contribute to the common security and the EU defence policy," Dzaferi told SETimes.
Macedonian soldiers will serve in BiH for six months beginning in May, when the mission's first annual personnel rotation takes place, and in November, during the second rotation.
The new unit includes a medical evacuation team, professional medical and support personnel, one officer and a military legal adviser.
"I have to thank [Macedonia] for its participation in the Althea mission within the international contingent, and also for participating in the Centre for Peace Operations," Miladin Milojcic, chief of staff of the BiH Army, told SETimes.
"This is [a] prime example of good co-operation between the two armies in the region. It is in an upward slope and sends a good message to region as a whole," Milojcic added.
Participating in the missions is commendable, as building peace and stability is a top EU strategic goal, Aivo Orav, EU ambassador to Macedonia, told SETimes.
"[Macedonia is making] a significant contribution to the overall security and defence efforts of Europe," Orav said.
The EU and Macedonia signed an agreement in October 2012, which established a framework for the EU's crisis management and peacekeeping operations.
"The first [Macedonian] contingent in BiH in 2006 successfully performed operational activities, reconnaissance, transporting troops and resources, VIP protection and transportation. The helicopter detachment participated on entire territory of BiH," Kire Kolevski, commander of the army's military wing serving in BiH, told SETimes.
The Macedonia Army's medical team created a station at Sarajevo's Butmir Airport, where EUFOR conducts general medical care.
"The team's responsibility is to provide health security to all multinational forces in BiH," Krsto Blazevski, leader of the first medical team, told SETimes.
Macedonia also is engaged in ongoing military co-operation with Kosovo. Dzaferi said this year's priority is training and education for Kosovo minorities at the Military Academy in Skopje.
"Kosovo's search and rescue soldiers can use Macedonia's Krivolak training polygon, while the special water training unit can utilise the training centre at Ohrid Lake. They asked to be involved in all major activities here," Dzaferi said.
Dzaferi told Pristina authorities that the Macedonian Defence Ministry will make all necessary human and material resources available to assist their Kosovo counterparts achieve closer co-operation with NATO, as well as its future army's organisational structure.
"All this will contribute to the rapprochement of the two armies which, with the joint effort, will help to change the perception of the region, from a risky one to a region of co-operation and safety," Dzaferi said.
Macedonia has provided logistical support to the KFOR mission in Kosovo since July 2007, and four Kosovo cadets now attend the Skopje military academy.
Dzaferi also said that Macedonia will advocate that Kosovo military and other representatives are present at all military and defence meetings and appointments.
"It is good for Macedonia to be a regional leader in transferring NATO standards that the army has implemented. Helping Kosovo is also another expression of good will by Macedonia," Vlado Buchkovski, former defence minister, told SETimes.
"We have a lot to offer, including experience and the opportunity to train their soldiers in our army and our polygons," Buchkovski said.
What else can the Macedonia Army do to boost regional security? Tell us in the comments.