Sunday, February 8, 2009

Germany to send troops to France as army ties deepen

By Sophie Hardach
February 2, 2009

PARIS (Reuters) - German troops will be stationed in France for the first time since World War Two when German forces occupied much of the country, a source said on Monday, a sign of ever closer military ties between the two historic foes.

A battalion of some 450-800 soldiers will probably be stationed near the northeastern city of Strasbourg, but France and Germany are still negotiating over the precise location, the diplomatic source told Reuters. "The question of whether this will happen has basically been decided, it's now about the 'how' and 'how many' and 'where'," the source said.

Relations between Germany and France used to be bitterly hostile as a result of the 1870 Franco-German conflict and two world wars, but the former enemies now run a bi-national brigade and have shaped the core of Europe's joint defence strategy."The prospect of seeing German troops settle in France again regularly makes my grandfather splutter," wrote a French reader on the website of newspaper Liberation when the idea was first floated by President Nicolas Sarkozy last November.For the online commentator it was something to welcome: "What an extraordinary symbol of Franco-German reconciliation" read the post.

Sarkozy proposed the move amid negotiations over the future of the 5,000-strong French-German brigade, which has been on missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan since it was founded 20 years ago. The brigade's main units are currently stationed in the German towns of Donaueschingen, Muellheim and Immendingen. But their future looked uncertain after France said it would recall some of the troops to plug gaps left by military cutbacks and a strategic re-shuffle of regiments at home.

"Now we have to agree on a location and what kind of unit will be offered. Talks are taking place at the highest level," the source said. The troops are likely to settle in Alsace or Lorraine, regions that were alternately claimed by Germany and France for centuries and now form part of France. Germany favours the Alsatian towns of Colmar and Illkirch as a new home for its battalion, while France would prefer the towns of Metz or Bitche in Lorraine, but may be willing to settle on Illkirch, the source said.

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