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Last French regiment to leave Germany

France plans to withdraw its last French-only regiment from Germany next year. The unit forms part of the post-war German-French Brigade which was long seen as the nucleus a potential European defense structure.

The French Defense Ministry announced Thursday that its 110th Infantry Regiment will be "dissolved" next year. It has been based in southern Germany since 1964.

German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere said he regretted the French decision.

He added though that "both nations" would "further develop" the six-unit German-French Brigade. The French ministry said in the future each nation would have 500 soldiers stationed with its neighbor.

Symbol of reconciliation

There was no change in France's "full commitment" to the brigade, Paris said.

The brigade was launched in 1987 as symbol of reconciliation by the-then French president Francois Mitterrand and the-then German chancellor Helmut Kohl in the wake of the two world wars that devastated Europe.

Shock for host town

The planned withdrawal of the regiment with its 725 soldiers and 150 civilian employees was a shock for the town of Donaueschingen, said its mayor Bernhard Kaiser on Thursday.

Kaiser called on Germany's Bundeswehr to press for the regiment's retention in the town of 21,000 in the southern German state of Baden-Wurttemberg.

It was dependent on the 110th regiment as a key employer and "motor" for the local economy, he said.

France 'dissatisfied'

Francois Heisbourg, a special adviser to the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS) said France had become "dissatisfied" because Germany had repeatedly refused to deploy the bi-national brigade on foreign missions.

"The French have concluded that the brigade costs a lot of money but it is of little practical use," Heisbourg said, adding that France wanted to know "how long do we have to pay for a symbol?"

The brigade has exercised regularly but has never been deployed as a whole on foreign missions.

France recently deployed its own troops to tackle Islamist insurgency in Mali. It can do that under president-only orders. In Germany, however, parliamentary approval is required.

Starting in the nineties, its units were, however, redeployed individually by France and Germany under separate flags and national command to NATO missions in Bosnia and Kosovo.

'Greater' capacity

The French Defense Ministry said on Thursday the 5000-strong German-French Brigade would be allocated a "new regiment with greater operational capacity."

The brigade's command center is located in Müllheim in the Black Forest area of southwestern Germany.

The brigade's six units are located at four sites in Baden-Württemberg state and in eastern Fance – spanning both sides of the Rhine river border between Germany and France.

German unit in France

One of these is the German Bundeswehr's 261st Infantry Battalion which is located near Strasbourg.

In 2010 it became the first German combat unit to be stationed in France since the Nazi occupation of France in World War Two.

ipj/dr (AFP, dpa)