NEWS

Balkan force takes shape

Greece agreed with Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus yesterday to set up a rapid reaction military force able to manage any crisis arising in the volatile Balkan area. The four nations signed the agreement in Brussels yesterday creating a unit of some 1,500 troops. It will operate along with about another 20 European Union (EU) forces of the same size which will be brought together to handle problems in different parts of the world. The unit is expected to be ready to take action in the second half of 2007 and will be commanded by Greece, according to the Defense Ministry. Meanwhile, EU defense ministers adopted a plan yesterday to open up their 30-billion-euro arms industry to cross-border competition in a bid to help secure lower costs for defense budgets. The plan is voluntary and non-binding but most members are likely to take part.