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Published: 31 august 2012 11:49

Czech aviators replace Poles in NATO's Baltic air-policing mission

KOP AB nuotr. / Zokniai Air Base

Czech aviators will replace Polish troops who have protected the air-space of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia for the last four months.

The Czech contingent will be conducting the Baltic air-policing mission for the second time and patrol the Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian skies with four JAS-39C Gripen fighters.

The Czech jets landed in the Lithuanian Air Force Aviation Base in Šiauliai, northern part of the country, on Thursday, with the formal changeover ceremony scheduled for Friday. The ceremony will be attended by Lithuania's Minister of National Defense Rasa Juknevičienė, Foreign Minister Audronius Ažubalis, Czech Minister of Defense Alexandr Vondra, and the Polish Army's Operational Board Commander Lieutenant General Edward Gruszka.

The ceremony will be followed by a face-to-face meeting of the Lithuanian and Czech defense ministers. Juknevičienė and her Czech colleague will discuss bilateral defense relations, the regional security situation, and issues of the NATO air-policing mission and NATO exercises. Furthermore, the minister will present Lithuania's priorities of its 2013 EU presidency.

The Polish contingent is completing its fourth rotation in the air-policing mission.

In early February, NATO decided to extend the Baltic Air Policing mission indefinitely with the first review scheduled for 2018.

Lithuania and other Baltic states don't have air-policing capacities. Based on the decision by the North Atlantic Council, the 24/7 task to police the airspace of the Baltic States has been conducted on three-month rotation from Lithuania's First Air Base in Zokniai/Šiauliai International Airport since the NATO accession of the three Baltic states in March 2004.

Troops from Belgium, Denmark, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

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