- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Changing the Balkans

The initials are long, and the task was daunting. However, three years after the establishment of the South-Eastern Europe Brigade, the peace-keeping force will soon be ready for deployment.

Leaders of the brigade, known as SEEBRIG, are in Washington this week to promote the multinational force as a success in a region known for ethnic tension and war.

"We are all presented with the image of the Balkans as the powder keg of Europe," said Ovidiu Dranga, the civilian chairman of the force. "We are here to show our success in promoting security cooperation in the region."

Mr. Dranga is chairman of the South-Eastern Europe Defense Ministerial Coordinating Committee and the Political-Military Steering Committee of the Multinational Peace Force South-Eastern Europe (SEDM-CC and PMSC/MPFSEE). Those two bodies coordinate the activities of SEEBRIG.

The defense ministerial includes Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Italy, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey and the United States. The brigade comprises units of the armies of those nations except for Croatia, Slovenia and the United States, which are observers.

SEEBRIG is designed to conduct peacekeeping missions in coordination with NATO.

"Public opinion should know that we can do something positive," Mr. Dranga said yesterday at a luncheon at the residence of Romanian Ambassador Sorin Ducaru.

"Who would have thought this could have been possible 10 years ago or even five years ago," Mr. Dranga added.

"The results are outstanding," said Gen. Andreas Kouzelis, the Greek commander of SEEBRIG.

Emil Savov Yalnazov, deputy chief of mission at the Bulgarian Embassy, said all of the security components are designed to enhance stability in the Balkans.

"This does not compromise in any way the trans-Atlantic cooperation," he added.

Maria Corson-Niecky, European policy specialist at the Pentagon who accompanied the delegation, said, "The United States believe SEEBRIG is the flagship of the Southern Europe military defense. It is a great achievement."

She said the brigade can be useful deployed anywhere in the world.

"Clearly if it is going to be useful, it must be ready to be deployed where needed," she added.

Caucus for Singapore

Singaporean Ambassador Chan Heng Chee today will help House members inaugurate the Singapore Congressional Caucus to promote relations between the United States and the city-state in Southeast Asia.

"The setting up of the [caucus] represents a significant step forward in U.S.-Singapore relations," the ambassador said. "We will work with House members on a variety of issues of interest to both countries. I am confident both countries will benefit from its good works."

Reps. Solomon P. Ortiz, Texas Democrat, and Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican, are co-chairmen of the bipartisan caucus, which now claims more than 50 members.

In a letter to fellow House members, they noted that Singapore and the United States share more than $40 billion in annual trade, making the nation of 4 million people one of the United States' largest trading partners. Singapore also has one of the world's freest economies.

"Singapore ranks as a more important trading partner for us than countries such as China, France, Italy and Brazil," they wrote.

Singaporean Foreign Minister S. Jayakumar said the caucus represents a "strong symbol of congressional support" for U.S.-Singaporean relations.

"Singapore has always recognized and advocated the importance of a strong U.S. presence in the Asia Pacific," he said in a letter to the co-chairmen. "We recognize that such a presence is vital to the preservation of regional security and stability."

North to Alaska

Indian Ambassador Lalit Mansingh traveled to Alaska this week to observe the second U.S.-Indian joint military exercise, which features paratroops from both countries.

The exercise, which ends Friday, includes troops from India's 50 (I) Para Brigade and the U.S. Army 1st Battalion 501st Para Infantry Regiment.

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