The German Defence Minister has announced that the number of German soldiers stationed in the Balkans will be reduced this year, just as the Parliament has extended the German peacekeeping mission in Macedonia.
Time to go home after a job well done?
Germany's Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping is well known for putting his foot in his mouth and landing in diplomatic muddles.
True to his style, his latest announcement that German troops in the Balkans will be slashed drastically this year comes close on the heels of the Parliament's decision that German soldiers will continue to participate in the Nato peace mission "Amber Fox" in Macedonia for another three months.
But the seeming contradiction does not appear to be a slip-up this time.
In an interview with the newspaper, "Die Welt", Scharping (photo) said the German troop deployment in the Balkans must be consolidated. German soldiers must be especially eased of their civil duties such as those in the field of policing. The German commitment in the Balkans must be substantially reduced, he said.
German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping talks to the media before a governing Social Democrat's (SPD) faction session in Berlin Thursday, Sept. 6, 2001. SPD's leadership keep his love-struck defense minister despite fresh opposition demands that he should resign after using government planes to visit his girlfriend in Spain after a visit to German troops in Macedonia
"Clear perspectives to reduce the commitment in Kosovo and Bosnia must be developed", he said.
Flagging morale in German army
Recent media reports suggest that the German army or Bundeswehr has been suffering from low morale and is overstretched by participating in a number of peace keeping missions outside Germany.
The latest blow to the army is the casualties suffered in Afghanistan. Just recently the Bundeswehr kicked off an information tour to attract more youngsters to its ranks.
The army suffers from a lack of fresh blood. About 25,000 officers have to be trained every year, but there simply aren't enough applications.
"Amber Fox" extended
Meanwhile on Friday the German Parliament voted that German soldiers continue with their leading role in the successful Nato peace mission "Amber Fox" in Macedonia. The extension of the Macedonia mandate is expected to involve an additional 13,4 million euro.
Scharping said, "over the next months we must strengthen the gradually growing mutual trust between the various ethnic groups in order to avoid endangering the fragile reconciliation process". German soldiers would contribute towards bringing about a lasting peace in the region, he said.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer emphasised that there was no alternative to the extension of the mandate.
The peace mission in Kosovo is a "successful example of conflict prevention" he said. A whole country has been saved the trauma of civil war. But Fischer warned against too much early optimism.
At present 4647 German soldiers are stationed in Kosovo as part of the Kfor mandate, in neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegowina another 1710 soldiers within the Sfor mandate.
The peacekeeping troops were initially meant to carry out their duties in the region till March 26. But in February, the Macedonian government requested the NATO to extend the peace mission to prevent a recurrence of the bloody conflict in Macedonia.