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German battalion to be stationed in France

world Updated: Feb 07, 2009 22:04 IST

The leaders of Germany and France on Saturday hailed a decision to station German troops in France for the first time since World War II as a new stage in relations between the countries.

Between 600 and 700 German troops are expected to be stationed at Illkirch, a suburb of the French city of Strasbourg, serving in a joint French-German brigade.

The brigade was formed 20 years ago but, while French troops have been stationed in Germany, no German troops have been based in France.

"For us it is an honor and a joy that the German-French brigade will now not be stationed only in Germany, but will also have a base in France," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters, with French President Nicholas Sarkozy at her side.

Germany invaded France in World War I and most of the major battles were fought on French soil. Germany invaded again a little over 20 years later in World War II, occupying much of France for most of the war.

But relations now are close, and Sarkozy said the time has come to put the bloody past behind the two nations.

"France will be particularly happy to see a German battalion stationed on its territory," he said. "I think the 21st century is finally time to close this chapter. This is a new stage in our friendship. ... It is a historic step."

Set up in 1989 with the aim of furthering rapprochment between the two nations, the brigade is made up of 2,800 German and 2,300 French troops.

They are currently stationed at three bases in Germany's southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, which borders the French region of Alsace-Lorraine, a territory that has swapped hands between France and Germany several times.

Around 1,100 French soldiers are stationed in Donaueschingen, Germany.

The brigade is an army unit under joint French and German command with individual French, German, and some integrated units. It includes armored artillery, light armored cavalry and a group of German armored engineers.

Since its inception, the brigade has served in peacekeeping missions to the Balkans and Afghanistan.