The US supports Serbia on demining, and Serbia’s needs come first, says a representative of the US embassy in Belgrade.
However, press officer Eric Heyden told Blic, the US has received assurances from the Serbian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the Serbian Army (VS) General Staff that Serbian deminers would not be sent to Syria.
The US administration looks disapprovingly at “announcements” that Serbian Army (VS) deminers, in whose training the US military has invested significantly, could be deployed in Syria along with Russian soldiers, the paper said.
According to Blic, this was one of the causes behind a recent spat between US Ambassador Kyle Scott and Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin.
“Blic correctly reported that the US government provided significant donations in money, equipment and training to help the Serbian Army get rid of the mines left over from the war, and thus make Serbia a safer place. That is why, over the past 15 years, we have provided more that USD 20 million in aid for mine clearing operations in Serbia. During our last major joint exercise, in April 2017, the US government donated some USD 450,000 in medical and demining equipment to the Serbian Army to improve its capacities,” Hayden said, according to Blic.
In April 2017, when the Ministry of Defense was led by Zoran Djordjevic, “announcements” came that the VS might be participating in the demining operations in Syria next year, the article continued.
Heyden, however, says the US side received assurances from the Serbian Ministry of Defense that this would not happen.
“Media reports from Russia have stated that deminers from Serbia would be deployed together with Russian forces in Syria. In the last six months, in our numerous conversations with the leadership of the Ministry of Defense and the VS General Staff, the US government received multiple assurances that this story is incorrect, and that the goal of our bilateral training was to enable members of the Serbian Army to clear the area of the former military airport in Sjenica, and to open it for use,” Hayden is quoted as saying.
He added that the United States already has plans for next year to continue helping to develop the Serbian Army’s capacity in this project.
“Like the Ministry of Defense, we consider it important that the entire territory of Serbia is safe for life and trade,” the US embassy representative said, and added that they received assurances that when the work is completed in Serbia, Serbian deminers would be deployed “only in UN and EU operations.”
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Wednesday that no decision making had taken place when it comes to sending Serbian deminers to Syria, but added that he “see pressure is being exerted on us via the press on this issue,” and that Serbia was “doing everything possible to preserve its independence and sovereignty.”