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Europe

German troops to serve in France in a post-WWII first

Latest update : 2009-02-04

In a historic move, France has agreed to let a German battalion be stationed in eastern France. According to German media, this new post-war cooperation involves 500 soldiers who will be based in Alsace-Lorraine.

AFP - France has agreed to allow a German battalion to be stationed on its soil for the first time since World War II, the defence ministry said on Tuesday.

An agreement in principle has been reached to pave the way for the historic move as part of efforts to promote military cooperation, said defence ministry spokesman General Christian Baptiste.

The hundreds of German troops will be serving in the Franco-German brigade set up in 1989 and which currently has 2,300 French soldiers and 2,800 German forces stationed side-by-side in southwest Germany.

"It will be the first time since the Second World War that a German unit will be stationed in France," said Baptiste.

"Discussions are continuing on choosing a base for the battalion," he added.

Der Spiegel magazine reported last month that 500 German soldiers would be stationed in the border town of Colmar but reports in the French press cited Strasbourg, Metz or Bitche as possible bases.

German troops occupied much of France during World War II and the eastern Alsace-Lorraine region has a patchwork history of annexation and occupation under both countries.

President Nicolas Sarkozy is due in Munich on Saturday to attend a security conference and details of the plan could be discussed during a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

According to Der Spiegel, Merkel offered to send the battalion after Paris said it planned to withdraw part of its troops serving in the joint brigade in Donaueschingen, Immendingen and Villingen in southwest Germany.

Merkel in July expressed disappointment with the decision, saying it would be a "shame" to dismantle the brigade, a key building block in Europe's defence and security policy.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon has for his part shown interest in Merkel's proposal saying it would be "very interesting and symbolic" to have a German unit stationed in France.

Sarkozy last year announced plans to shut down scores of French army bases and slash defence jobs as part of a broad overhaul of the military, saying the funds would be put to better use to develop high-tech intelligence.

"The two sides have agreed on the principle of stationing a German battalion in eastern France," said Baptiste.

The Franco-German Brigade was set up by then French president Francois Mitterrand and German chancellor Helmut Kohl to increase military cooperation between the two former enemies.

There are German officers based in Strasbourg in eastern France who are engaged with the NATO mission Eurocorps, but no German military unit has been stationed in the country since the end of World War II over 60 years ago.

There are also regular exchanges between the two countries including German officers who study at French defence academies and helicopter pilots who train in France.

Date created : 2009-02-03