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PM Sobotka visits Afghanistan, meets Czech soldiers

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Prague/Kabul April 25 (CTK) – Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka visited Afghanistan, where he met Czech soldiers at the Bagram and Kabul bases, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and government representatives in the course of Sunday and Saturday, the Government Office has said in a press release.
According to Sobotka, the Czech Republic is ready to help Afghanistan, but he said the country must progress in internal reforms.
On return in Prague this evening, Sobotka said the Czech representation in the NATO mission in Afghanistan will remain unchanged until the end of the year.
About 245 Czech soldiers operate in the country within the NATO mission now.
In the years to come, Prague’s military presence there will depend on the country’s needs. The presence of Czech soldiers must be meaningful and long sustainable, Sobotka said.
“We expect the number of soldiers in the NATO mission to gradually decrease in the years to come together with the Afghan government’s increasing responsibility for ensuring internal security,” he added.
In Afghanistan, Sobotka thanked the soldiers deployed at the Kabul international airport and at Bagram for their service in the difficult conditions and for managing demanding tasks, the Government Office said.
“A stable and prospering Afghanistan, capable of looking after its own security as soon as possible, is also the Czech Republic’s security interest,” Sobotka told the soldiers.
He said the operation of Czech soldiers within the NATO mission is important for the fulfilling of the Czech commitments arising from the country’s NATO membership.
Of the Czech soldiers in Afghanistan, most operate at the Bagram air base close to Kabul where they are in charge of its external protection.
In Kabul, the soldiers train Afghan helicopter pilots, protect the Czech embassy and work in the military hospital.
The Czech contingent in Afghanistan is the eight largest in the NATO mission.
Economic cooperation and migration were also on the agenda of Sobotka’s talks with Afghan representatives.
He stressed the need to sign a readmission agreement between the EU and Afghanistan so that the Afghanis who are not granted asylum in the EU can be returned.
“Dozens of thousands of mainly young people are leaving the country every year, but Afghanistan will need them for its future reconstruction and development,” Sobotka said.
That is why the Czech Republic wants to concentrate on the areas where the living conditions in Afghanistan can be improved and so contribute to easing the migrant pressures, he added.
The Czech Republic annually sends some 60 million crowns to Afghanistan to support the development of security, agriculture and education, and also as a direct budgetary aid.
Sobotka was to go to Afghanistan last November, but he cancelled the journey because of the terrorist attacks in Paris.
Afghanistan is to be a priority of Czech foreign missions in the next two years, too. The government approved the plan one week ago. It is yet to be supported by parliament.
($1=24.014 crowns)

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