YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The National Assembly voted unanimously on Thursday to allow the government to double the number of Armenian troops serving in Kosovo as part of a NATO-led multinational peacekeeping force.
The government announced plans to send an extra 34 or so soldiers to the region last January, citing Armenia’s growing security ties with the West and the resulting commitment to expanding its participation in international peacekeeping operations abroad.
"In accordance with its Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO, the Republic of Armenia envisages to have a fully operational peace-keeping brigade by 2015," Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian told the parliament on Wednesday. "To that end we need to enhance the capacity of Armenian peace-keeping units to act in an autonomous and self-sufficient manner within the framework of international missions."
The Armenian peacekeeping unit was set up in 2001 with the financial and technical assistance of the United States, Greece and other NATO member states. It currently consists of battalion and is expected to have a second one later this year.
The volunteer force also provides 46 non-combat personnel to the US-led multinational force in Iraq. According to Ohanian, the Armenian military is ready in principle to boost that contingent as well. Military officials said last year that Yerevan is also discussing with Western governmen’s the possibility of sending Armenian peacekeepers to Afghanistan.
Artur Aghabekian, chairman of the Armenian parliament’s committee on defense and security, said during the parliament debate on the issue that the increased troop presence in Kosovo would also underscore Armenia’s support for the application of the principle of peoples’ self-determination. "By doubling our forces in Kosovo we are helping the people of Kosovo to achieve full international recognition and have an independent republic," Aghabekian said, adding that that would set an important precedent for a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict.
Exposing their fears of such a precedent, neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia recently withdrew their contingents from the former Yugoslav province.
The dispatch of additional Armenian troops to Kosovo, which could be done as early as next month, was approved by all factions of the Armenian parliament. Stepan Safarian, a deputy from the opposition Herritage party, said it would enable Armenia to gain more international peace-keeping experience and to facilitate its army’s growing reliance on the recruitment of personnel on the contractual basis.