Poles lend UK troops room to manoeuvre

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The Independent Online

Medicine Hat, Alberta

Britain is about to conclude a deal to send troops to train in Poland and is exploring the possibility of a similar deal with Hungary.

From next September British soldiers will be training in an area just inside the Polish border and about 80 miles from Dresden, described as "ideal" for armoured formations of several thousand troops. Military sources say Britain will pay Poland about pounds 13 per man per day when using the area.

A second area, north of Lake Balaton in Hungary, is also being explored and is said to be suitable for helicopter-borne troops similar to the 24th Airmobile Brigade now deployed in former Yugoslavia.

The deal is expected to lead to regular British exercises in Eastern Europe, in addition to specific exercises agreed under the Nato Partnership for Peace programme. An exercise involving British, German and Hungarian troops is to be held at the end of next month.

Finding places for Britain's forces to practise large-scale warfare has been difficult following the withdrawal from many bases in Germany and increased concern from environmentalists about the impact of military exercises. By next year, three-quarters of the British Army will be based in Britain. The wide spaces of Eastern Europe offer a solution to the problem.

The Armed Forces Minister, Nicholas Soames, yesterday said the defence chiefs of "virtually every country in Eastern Europe" have asked the Army to train on their land. Such exercises are seen as a source of cash and a ticket to help their applications to join Nato.

Mr Soames is visiting the British Army's unit at Suffield, Alberta, the only training area in the West where armoured battle groups can practise the most intensive forms of warfare.

He was shown a revolutionary new system to mimic large-scale combat, using lasers fired from a variety of weapons to set off sensors on soldiers or vehicles when they are hit.

Mr Soames said Britain is likely to play a leading part in a Peace Implementation Force if a ceasefire is achieved in Bosnia. The headquarters of the Nato Rapid Reaction Corps, which is mainly British, would probably be involved and the total force is expected to comprise 50,000 troops.

The minister, who has just had discussions in Washington with the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili, said the force was likely to comprise Nato and troops from other nations. Pakistan, which has forces with the UN in Bosnia, has also approached British officials saying it wants to be involved in the Peace Implementation Force.