Sat, Jul 10, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Peacekeepers meet for joint training on a Mongolian plain

THE GUARDIAN , ULAANBAATAR

If there is ever a permanent UN peacekeeping force, it may one day trace its origins to the vast pastures outside Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, where Britain has organized a unique experiment in security cooperation.

Almost achieving the unprecedented feat of persuading all five members of the UN security council to join forces, UK military diplomats brought together personnel from China, the US, France, Britain and the host country for the first exercise of its kind in one of the world's most remote locations.

It was a historic event, but one with its share of teething problems, including a mysterious no-show by the Russian contingent, who were turned back by their own border guards on the eve of the exercise.

Nonetheless, the British organizers hope the three-day event, which ended on Thursday, will be the first of many multinational training sessions in Mongolia.

Gordon Kerr, the British defense attache who masterminded the drills, said: "It is a test case, but I would like to see it expanded and continued as an annual event."

At first sight, Mongolia is an unlikely venue for groundbreaking peace drills. The impoverished country's greatest hero is Ghengis Khan, whose armies created the then biggest land empire.

Today, however, it has adopted a policy of proactive neutrality to secure its huge borders with its former patrons, Russia and China.

Looking for more help from the US and multilateral organizations, it has dispatched several hundred troops from its small 10,000-man army to peacekeeping missions, including Iraq.

As one of the world's most sparsely populated nations, it also has the space to accommodate the world's armies. On Thursday, at the five hills training ground, a huge, barely inhabited plain an hour's drive from the capital, about a dozen personnel from each of the participating nations jointly practised mine-awareness drills, unarmed patrol procedures, incident management skills and rules of engagement.

In a sign of Chinese sensitivities, Beijing decided at the last moment to send police rather than soldiers to the exercise.

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