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European edition, Saturday, May 5, 2007

The U.S. has taken a large step in strengthening its relationship with another former Yugoslav republic, signing a status of forces agreement with Montenegro.

“Essentially, what it does is allow us to establish a bilateral military relationship,” said Maj. John Dorrian, chief of media relations for the U.S. European Command.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic signed the document in Washington on Tuesday, according to the American Forces Press Service.

The U.S. has similar long-standing agreements with a host of countries in Europe and many other nations around the globe. They provide specific rights for U.S. personnel serving in a specific country and establish responsibilities and obligations to which each country will adhere.

Dorrian said the agreement paves the way for expanded ties with Montenegrin military forces on an array of activities that could include anti-terrorism training, joint exercises, slots in U.S. schools for Montenegrin personnel and visits to each country’s bases.

In March, President Bush signed an agreement that could pave the way for future military aid to the country, Dorrian said. And Montenegro has been paired with Maine under a program that links countries with the National Guard from a particular state.

The signing of the SOFA doesn’t immediately affect many U.S. troops. There is only a small contingent of military personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Podgorica, and Dorrian said there are no plans to establish any kind of base in the country.

Montenegro was, until last year, unified to varying degrees with Serbia. It declared independence in June, followed by recognition from the United Nations later in the month.

The U.S. signed a SOFA with Serbia in 2006. Since then, U.S. pilots from Aviano Air Base have flown in to a base near Belgrade and a Serbian delegation toured the Air Force base in northern Italy.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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