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Friday, 15 November 2002

Working visit of the President of the Republic of Poland to the Syrian Arab Republic; meeting with Polish soldiers

On November 15th 2002, President of the Republic of Poland, Aleksander Kwaśniewski paid a working visit to the Syrian Arab Republic. Upon his arrival in Damascus, President Aleksander Kwaśniewski met with the President of Syria, Bashar Al-Asad. This was the first meeting between the Presidents. President of the Republic of Poland was accompanied by the Defence Minister Jerzy Szmajdziński and Head of the National Security Bureau Marek Siwiec. In their over hour long conversation, President Kwaśniewski and President Asad discussed the key bilateral issues of Poland and Syria. President Kwaśniewski pointed out to the long-standing tradition of relations between Poland and Syria, dating back to the World War Two and formation of general Kopański`s brigade in Syria. Also, President Kwaśniewski brought out the extensive cultural and scientific co-operation between the two countries, stressing the contribution made by the large and active group of Syrian constituents, who have obtained their university education and further academic degrees in Poland. President of the Republic of Poland also pointed to the still unexplored potential for greater economic co-operation between Syria and Poland and to the unsettled debt of Syria vis-a-vis Poland. In his opinion new prospects for co-operation between Syria and Poland would emerge with Poland`s imminent EU accession and the prospective signature by Syria of the Association Agreement with the EU. The Presidents discussed the Iraq crisis and underscored the important contribution the UN peacekeeping force deployed in the Golan Heights has been making to stability in the region. President of the Republic of Poland opted for the need for urgent resumption of Middle-East peace process. President Kwaśniewski articulated his support for efforts in this respect of the Quartet (UN, EU, USA and Russia), who strive to establish lasting peace in the region. President Asad argued for a comprehensive political resolution of Middle East`s problems, including those of Syria. President Aleksander Kwaśniewski invited President Al-Asad to Poland, which invitation President Al-Asad accepted with satisfaction. `It is a sheer paradox`, Mr Kwaśniewski informed journalists after the meeting, `that Syria has very good economic relations with the EU while its contacts with the countries of Central Europe seem to have lapsed. I suggested that Syria should not wait until Poland`s the EU accession, but rather build the economic relations right now, to the benefit of both countries.` In the afternoon, President of the Republic of Poland visited the Polish contingent of the UNDOF military mission to the Golan Heights. At the welcoming ceremony by the Polish soldiers, attended by the UNDOF Force Commander, Major General Bo Wranker from Sweden, President Aleksander Kwaśniewski said: Let me firstly thank General Wranker for his wholehearted welcome, for his kind words and good opinion on his Polish subordinates. It is a great responsibility to command international forces on a mediation mission in such a sensitive part of the world. General, please accept my recognition of the talent which you have been carrying out your harsh mission. It is a great pleasure for me that during this visit to the Middle East, taking place just before Christmastime, I am privileged to meet such a large group of my fellow citizens in the Polish army uniforms. With no Christmas trees or snow in sight, the Polish Christmas atmosphere is around us. Let me thank you for your presence here. Your service in this part of the Israeli-Syrian border is an evidence of the Polish sensitivity to excruciating global problems; it is a proof of solidarity with those who suffer painful consequences of conflicts in this region. By your honourable mission in the UN forces in the Golan Heights you are supporting, with a great effort and risk, peace and dialogue; you are helping to bring former adversaries together and to normalise relations between them. Poland has many bitter experiences. In the last century we had been through the inferno of wars and totalitarian regimes. This is why we care so much for support of peace and international co-operation on a partnership basis. We want to encourage the atmosphere of safety and respect for human rights, freedom and democracy. Continually for nearly half a century, the Polish armed forces have been involved in the international peacekeeping and mediation missions. Since 1953 over 40 thousand Polish soldiers participated in such operations, led by the UN or NATO. Believe me, I am proud to say that the countries whose record in this respect is anywhere near such an achievement are few. Of all Polish missions yours is of particular importance. You have been carrying your extremely difficult mandate for as many as 28 years. One cannot underestimate the importance of your mission for peace and stability in the Middle East. I know how difficult and dangerous your assignment is. Two years ago, during my stay in Israel, I visited your contingent. I know the area you are responsible for and the tasks you undertake. Today the situation in this area under scrutiny of the UNDOF mission appears even more complex. One needs to account for the threat international terrorism as well as for the ethnic and religious tensions. Sadly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not subsiding. This region is far from stabile, which impacts greatly your everyday service here. In the Middle East peace may be ensured only though comprehensive, sustainable and just solutions acceptable to all the parties concerned. Poland supports every effort to this effect. Along with other members of the broad anti-terrorist coalition and the entire international community we hope for positive results of the actions for peace, in line with the UN resolutions and decisions. Without you, the Blue Helmets, it would be unlikely that the olive-branch of peace, so dear to us, could sprout and flourish here. Your service in the Golan Heights has turned out a harsh training ground and a true school of life and duty. It has been an experience which, I believe, you will find remarkably useful back in Poland. I am sure that your professional approach and devotion to your duties frequently promotes you to the ranks of commanding staff. Thirty Polish soldiers and civil personnel are now working in the UNDOF Headquarters. This makes us all proud and I congratulate you on your promotions. Thank you for your service in this rugged environment, for your devotion, for your resilience in the face of problems and set-backs. I wish you further success under the UN flag and a happy return to your homes in Poland as your mission is accomplished. Let me express my particular gratitude to Colonel Ryszard Łozecki for his distinguished service and the efficient command of the contingent. Colonel, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Poland, and on behalf of the Minister of Defence, I hereby laud you in front of all the ranks. Let me also wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas. I will take your wishes back to your families and all those you left behind in Poland. I wish all Polish soldiers, scattered through the international peacekeeping posts at various continents, all the best, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Let these days be full of joy. Let me also thank those who have been supporting you during your stay here and contributing to your wellness. I thank Chaplain Major Mieczysław Olesiuk for his pastoral care for our military. I thank all your commanding officers. I thank the ladies in uniformed capacity who support you in your day-to-day service. All the best to you all. I will see you all back at home - back in Poland! To commemorate his visit, President of the Republic of Poland planted an olive tree in the base of the Polish Military Contingent (PKW) of UNDOF. During his dinner with all the soldiers, President Aleksander Kwaśniewski passed Christmas wishes to them and `broke the wafer` with them. Since 1974, the Polish Military Contingent has operated as part of the United Nations Dividing and Observation Forces that oversee the ceasefire between Israel and Syria and check compliance with the Concord on Division of Armed Forces, in force under Resolution of the UN Security Council. Today, the UNDOF consists of 1042 armed personnel, 80 military observers and 115 UN civil staff. This includes two operating battalions - the Polish and the Austrian battalion, the Canadian logistics battalion and two companies - the Slovak infantry and the Japanese logistics company. PKW UNDOF includes 359 persons, of which 30 professional soldiers and 2 civil personnel work in the UNDOF Headquarters in Camp Faouar (on the Syrian side). In the Headquarters, Polish officers serve as the Head of Military Personnel, Head of Operations and Liaison Officer. The Polish Operating Battalion (POLBATT) stationed in the Golan Heights has 157 professional soldiers, 167 conscripts and 3 civil personnel. PKW command headquarters is located in Camp Ziouani (on the Israeli side), while the infantry and the support company are station in the dividing zone on the Syrian side. Lieutenant-Colonel Ryszard Łozecki is the CO of POLBATT.
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