Cowen to visit troops in Kosovo

IRISH troops serving in Kosovo will be paid a pre-Christmas visit by Taoiseach Brian Cowen as part of his one-day visit to the newly independent country.

There are 233 members of the defence forces and eight members of the Garda Síochána involved in peace-keeping as part of KFOR — the United Nations mission in the region.

They will not be able to travel home for the holiday period but will be involved in a live Christmas day link-up on RTÉ with the morning Mass from McKee Barracks in Dublin

Mr Cowen and Defence Minister Willie O’Dea are to visit the troops at their Camp Clarke base today before meeting President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci in the capital Pristina.

About 750 Irish troops are serving with the UN abroad including 400 troops taking part in a mission to protect civilians, including Darfuri refugees, in eastern Chad.

Troops have been serving in Kosovo for almost a decade, following the Government and Dáil approval of their participation in August 1999.

Since last August, Brigadier General Gerry Hegarty from Ireland has been in charge of a brigade-sized force of 1,200 troops from six countries which oversees security around Pristina.

Christmas messages will also be sent to the peacekeepers from President Mary McAleese, who is commander-in chief of the Defence Forces, and the chief of staff, Lt Gen Dermot Earley.

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