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US missile shield nothing to celebrate: Polish town's mayor

by Staff Writers
Warsaw (AFP) Aug 14, 2008
As Warsaw and Washington clinch a deal on basing part of a US missile shield in Poland, the mood of the mayor is grim in the northern town which is the planned home of the silos.

"This is a day of mourning for us," Mariusz Chmiel, mayor of the small northern Polish community of Redzikowo, told AFP in a telephone interview.

"The shield is meant to defend the United States, not us. On the contrary, all it will do is put us in danger," Chmiel said after Polish and US negotiators inked a preliminary accord in Warsaw.

Washington plans to base 10 interceptor missiles in Poland plus a radar facility in the neighbouring Czech Republic by 2011-2013 to complete a system already in place in the United States, Greenland and Britain.

Washington insists the shield is meant to fend off potential missile attacks by "rogue states", notably Iran.

The plan, however, has become a major source of tension with Moscow. It considers it a security threat designed to undermine Russia's nuclear deterrent, and has vowed a firm response if the Czechs and Poles go ahead.

The matter is all the more sensitive because the Czech Republic and Poland were Soviet satellites until 1989, before transforming into staunch US allies when the communist bloc collapsed. They joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.

Redzikowo, near the northern Polish town of Slupsk, was picked by US and Polish missile shield planners because it is home to a mothballed communist-era base.

The prospect of again becoming a military hub reminds locals of the Cold War, when Poland was part the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact military alliance -- and Redzikowo was among the likely targets for a NATO attack.

"Russia has already warned that if the shield's set up, it will react. The situation in Georgia shown perfectly well that you have to take Russian threats seriously," said Chmiel.

Redzikowo's derelict 400-hectare (988-acre) former Polish army and air force base, once hosted 2,500 servicemen and has a 2.3-kilometre (1.4 mile) runway -- "the longest in Poland," Chmiel noted.

Before World War II, when the region was part of Germany, Redzikowo was also an air force base.

Luftwaffe bombers took off from there when Germany began the war by attacking Poland in September 1939.

Besides the Polish military base, the Soviet Red Army was also stationed in this area of northern Poland perched on the Baltic coast, most notably at the top-security site at nearby Borne-Sulinowo.

Red Army bases across Poland were considered Soviet territory.

"We would have preferred the old runway to be used for a civilian airport so we could increase tourism on the beautiful Baltic beaches," Chmiel said.

The sandy shores are just 10 kilometers (six miles) away. Thick forests attract hunters, while anglers fish for trout in the area's pristine rivers.

According to an opinion poll earlier this year, 60 percent of residents of the region oppose the shield and 30 percent are in favour.

Supporters argue that a US base would be a big economic boost for the area.

Some 300 US soldiers are expected to be posted in the area, along with their families -- a total of around 1,200 people.

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Poland, US clinch missile shield deal
Warsaw (AFP) Aug 14, 2008
Warsaw and Washington signed a preliminary deal Thursday on basing part of a US missile shield in Poland, in the face of Moscow's vehement opposition and mounting East-West tensions over Georgia.

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