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news 02 May 17

Serbia Floats Plan to Help Russia De-Mine Syria

Serbian Army's readiness and capability to join Russian troops in Syria has been doubted as the Defence Ministry rejected to elaborate more previously announced plans.

Maja Zivanovic

Serbian and Russian Defense ministries on April 25 meeting. Photo: Beta/Serbian Defense Ministry/Vadim Savitsky

A leading Serbian military expert has cast strong doubts on the plans of the Serbian Defence Ministry to depoly troops in de-mining operations in Syria with Russia by the end of 2018.

Aleksandar Radic, an expert on military issues, told BIRN that Minister Zoran Djordjevic's pledge was a "wrong, easily given political promise".

“No way is the Serbian Army going to Syria to de-mine anything for one simple reason – because it would be choosing one side there,” Radic explained.

As a militarily neutral country, Serbia cannot participate in any activities related to the civil war in Syria, except under a mandate of the United Nations or the European Union, he added.

Djordjevic told Russia's Tass news agency on April 25 that Serbian forces could soon take part in de-mining operations in Syria, including in Palmyra, later correcting himself to clarify that this might happen late in 2018, after suitable training of Serbian soldiers.

Djordjevic issued the plecge after meeting Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu at a Moscow conference on international security, when he said: "Serbia supports all Russian initiatives" [in Syria and elsewhere].

“We want to participate together in all international activities. Specifically, we talked about the participation of Serbian armed forces in demining in Syria, including in Palmyra,” Djordjevic said, adding that both Serbian and Russian troops need to be jointly represented on the international scene, Tass reported.

Djordjevic's later released an explanation, admitting that Serbia currently has no capacity or units trained for this job, but had a will to send people for training.

“Only after that, possibly at the end of 2018, [Serbia] could participate in humanitarian de-mining all over the world, including in Syria,” the ministry said.

The ministry did not respond to queries by BIRN about the details of any possible deal on de-mining with Russia.  

Last August, Tass agency reported that Serbian forces might join Russian troops in carrying out humanitarian operations in the divided Syrian city of Aleppo after Moscow asked for international support in assisting government forces to retake the city.

Aleksandar Radic said demining operations by Serbian forces in Syria were only an option once combat operations in the country end, and following the establishment of UN mission.

“In every other option, Serbia would be a warring party, regardless of whether it was directly involved in combat,” Radic pointed out.

He added that military relations between Serbia, the US, and Russia were “complicated” because Serbia was participating in training and actions with both countries.  

On April 28, US embassy in Serbia said Washington would donate Serbia de-mining and medical equipment worth 435 000 dollars, while US Army instructors in Europe would help train Serbian troops on the destruction of explosive ordnance.

According to the Defence Ministry’s web page, 329 members of Serbia's armed forces are involved in multinational operations – in Congo, Liberia, Cyprus, Lebanon, Near East, Central African Republic, Somalia and Mali.  

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