Partnership with bloc to benefit Balkans: NATO chief

By Talha Ozturk

BELGRADE, Serbia (AA) – NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday said that partnership with NATO can bring concrete benefits to Serbia, the military bloc and the region.

He was speaking at the opening ceremony of the civil emergency exercise "Serbia 2018", co-organized by the bloc's Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC) and the Serbian Interior Ministry.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Prime Minister Ana Brnabic were also present at the event.

"SERBIA 2018 is an exercise that demonstrates our strengths and weaknesses, it will enable us to learn together and to get better together. It is also a great example of how partnership with NATO can bring concrete benefits to Serbia, NATO and the entire region," said Stoltenberg.

The exercise "Serbia 2018" will be held until Oct. 11 with 2,000 participants from 38 countries, including Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Romania and Pakistan.

NATO secretary general said that it was not a military, but a civic readiness exercise, the first of its kind in Serbia.

"It is a platform to learn from each other in order to get real experiences together and to better prepare for times when we face real life emergencies," said Stoltenberg.

He added that the lessons that we learn today will be useful in the future.

According to him, this exercise shows good cooperation between NATO and Serbia, and that this partnership strengthens day by day.

"NATO respects the military neutrality of Serbia … I understand that NATO remains controversial in Serbia, and that memories from 1999 are painful for many. This NATO campaign has never been directed against civilians, but against the regime (Slobodan Milosevic), and each lost life is a tragedy," he said, adding that NATO aims at peace.

Vucic reiterated that Serbia is a military-neutral country.

"Serbia is military-neutral, but it will cooperate well with NATO. Serbia is in the final phase of accepting the IPAP plan for the period 2018-2020, because we want to have good relations with that alliance for the future of our citizens, regardless of painful memories," said Vucic.

The Serbian president wished success to the participants and conveyed their satisfaction at being one of the largest exercises of this type in which teams from 38 countries work together and prepare to provide mutual assistance in case of accidents and disasters.

Vucic said that Serbia has a duty to help others, stressing that it is a demanding and complex task that requires coordination, readiness and mutual cooperation.

While other ex-Yugoslav states Croatia and Slovenia have joined the EU and NATO, Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia remain in limbo.

Following his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, Vucic said that Serbia does not want to be part of NATO but wants to stay militarily-neutral.