Ukraine, Lithuania want to join Poland in joint peacekeeping battalion in Kosovo

Lithuania and Ukraine have agreed to form a joint battalion with Poland within the NATO-led mission in Serbia's province of Kosovo, Ukraine's Defense Ministry said Wednesday.

The agreement was signed in Kiev by visiting Lithuanian Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkilas and Ukrainian counterpart Anatoly Gritsenko.

It envisions the creation of a joint Ukrainian, Polish and Lithuanian battalion that would serve in the eastern part of the province, a statement said.

The document requires endorsement from the Polish Defense Ministry and a ratification from the three national parliaments, the ministry said. It offered no further details.

Although officially part of Serbia, Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations and NATO-led peacekeepers since June 1999, following a NATO air war that stopped a crackdown by Serb forces on independence-seeking ethnic Albanian rebels there.

Since July 2000, Ukraine has maintained some 300 troops in Kosovo as a part of a combined Ukrainian-Polish battalion. Lithuania also has some 30 troops in the province.

Since the Soviet collapse, Ukrainian troops have participated in several U.N.-led peacekeeping missions throughout the world, including deployments in Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Last month Ukraine's parliament endorsed the deployment of 200 peacekeepers to take part in the U.N. observer mission in the Golan Heights where they will monitor a cease-fire between Israel and Syria after the 1967 war.

Ukraine has begun the withdrawal of its 1,650-strong contingent from Iraq where it serves as part of the U.S.-led coalition.

Associated Press

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