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    NATO SET TO GUARD LITHUANIAN AIR SPACE

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    VILNIUS, March 10, 2004. (RIA Novosti) -- NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer claims that NATO countries will duly guard Lithuania's air space, right after the country joins this alliance. Mr. Scheffer made this statement the other day, while being interviewed by the Lithuanian radio network.

    Lithuanian air space will be protected in the same way as that of other NATO countries, Mr. Scheffer added. There are no first-rate and second-rate members; nor should there be any, Mr. Scheffer went on to say. NATO will fulfil its commitments, after Lithuania completely joins the North Atlantic Treaty, Mr. Scheffer noted.

    The Lithuanian Defense Ministry's Undersecretary Povilas Malakauskas said that Lithuanian and NATO experts were now working rather intensively, and that they were trying to solve the problem of guarding national air space.

    NATO experts, who recently visited Lithuania, collected information for making the final decision, Mr. Malakauskas added. In his words, specific air-defense options (rather than the very possibility of guarding Lithuanian air space) are currently being examined, so that Lithuania won't become a second-rate NATO member April 2, Mr. Malakauskas stressed.

    Various technical decisions will be adopted within the next few weeks, Mr. Malakauskas added.

    Previously, Lithuanian and NATO spokespersons used to claim that the German air force or some other NATO-country air force could temporarily deploy its planes in the Baltics, which lack an adequate air-defense potential, for the sake of guarding regional air space. Such aircraft could serve as some kind of a sky-police force.

    All current 19 NATO members have already endorsed the decision of Lithuania and six other prospective member-countries to join the North Atlantic Treaty (that was signed April 4, 1949 in Washington), also depositing the relevant protocols at the US State Department.

    Lithuania would be expected to join NATO in late March or early April, that is, when all seven new rookie members deposit their instruments of ratification.

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