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. Non-aligned Finland to join NATO rapid reaction force

by Staff Writers
Helsinki (AFP) March 7, 2008
Finland said Friday it would take part in NATO's future rapid reaction force, a move criticised by some members of the opposition who see it as a step towards joining the alliance.

Finnish President Tarja Halonen and the government had given the green light to the Nordic country's participation in "activities supplementing NATO's Response Force", defence ministry official Mari Etelaepaeae told AFP.

Parliament is expected to vote on the issue soon, but the proposal is widely expected to pass as the government has a broad majority.

The Conservative Party has pushed for Finland's participation in the NATO force since the government coalition came to power in March 2007 legislative elections.

Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva and Defense Minister Jyri Haekaemies, both members of the National Coalition Party, were also strong supporters.

Halonen is generally opposed to a Finnish rapprochement with NATO, but the constitution prevents the president from opposing government decisions.

However, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen stressed at a press conference Friday that the decision was taken "in good cooperation" with the president.

Halonen has previously noted that Finland's troops are already spread thin, with troop deployments in the Balkans, in Afghanistan under NATO command and in Chad, among others.

Jaakko Laakso, a member of the Left Alliance and an opponent of NATO, said Friday's decision "objectively brings Finland closer to NATO".

He said Helsinki should only have agreed to participate in the force if there were a mandate from the United Nations.

"That should be a prerequisite," he told AFP.

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