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Germany

Green Light for German Blue-Helmets

The German Parliament has voted to send German soldiers to Afghanistan as part of the international peacekeeping force.

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Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping (left) talks to General Gerd Gudera, chief of staff of the German army, during Saturday's debate.

On Saturday, Germany's parliament overwhelmingly endorsed German participation in the peacekeeping force for Afghanistan. Parliament met in special session to debate the issue.

The resolution passed with 538 in favor and 35 against.

Before the vote, chancellor Schröder told lawmakers the mission was in line with his policy of "unwavering solidarity" in the fight against terror.

Opposition parties also supported the deployment, but cautioned that Germany could not play a greater role on the world stage if its armed forces remained underfunded.

The only party to vote en block against the government was the PDS, the successor to the communist party that ruled the former East Germany.

Cabinet plans

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's cabinet had already approved the deployment of up to 1,200 Bundeswehr soldiers on Friday.

But in Germany, any military deployment has to be endorsed by parliament.

It seemed clear from the start of Saturday's debate, however, that there was no real opposition to the government's plan.

Only the post-communist PDS announced early on that it was against German participation in the peacekeeping force.

Debate

In Saturday's parliamentary debate, chancellor Schröder said peace in Afghanistan had been achieved through a combination of force and diplomacy.

Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said "After 23 years of invasion, conflict and civil war, this is finally the chance to end the war."

Fischer added that it was the prime task of the peacekeeping force to promote trust between the warring factions in Afghanistan.

Conservatives' worries

Germany's conservative opposition said it supported the Afghanistan mission. But the conservatives voiced concerns about its financing.

Afghanistan's interim government needed help, said Friedrich Merz, parliamentary group leader of the conservative Christian Democrats. That's why his party would vote in favor of a German contribution to the international peacekeeping force.

But Merz criticized that Europeans had been at loggerheads over the UN mission. Germany and Britain had debated who should lead the force and what its exact mandate should be.

Germany originally said Britain shouldn't head the peacekeeping force, since it was also a key player in the war against Afghanistan.

Volatile issue

Saturday's debate was an easy victory for chancellor Schröder's government coalition.

But only a month ago, Schröder's government almost collapsed over Afghanistan. The question, whether German soldiers should actively participate in the war against terror was highly volatile.

In November, Schröder, managed to squeeze out a slim majority in favor of mobilizing troops for the U.S-led military campaign.

With peace now replacing war on the agenda, Schröder faced fewer dissenters within his junior coalition partner, the Green party, despite its tradition of pacifism.

Polls show two-thirds of the German people are in favor of the peacekeeping mission.

Nevertheless most Germans know that this is one of the riskiest operations yet faced by German soldiers.

Peacekeepers at work

The first elements of the international peacekeeping force are already at work. They patrolled the streets of Kabul on Saturday and boosted security as Afghanistan's new interim government is sworn.

Western countries had wrangled amongst themselves and with Afghan leaders over the size, duration and terms of the peacekeeping mission.

For Germany, ever mindful of its militaristic past, it was crucial that the troops be empowered with what has been referred to as a "robust" mandate, allowing them to respond with force if necessary to keep the peace or defend themselves.

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