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Poland Apologizes to France for Missile Mix-Up by Soldiers in Iraq

Weapons could not have been produced this year, Paris says. Warsaw orders an investigation.

October 05, 2003|From Times Wire Services

WARSAW — Poland apologized to France on Saturday for saying its troops had found advanced French-made missiles in Iraq that had been produced this year.

The report sparked criticism from French President Jacques Chirac, who said it was incorrect and had been drawn up without proper checks.

Neither Polish nor French authorities denied that the Roland-type antiaircraft weapons were found near the Iraqi town of Hillah, south of Baghdad, in a zone controlled by the Polish-led military force.

"I apologized to France for this information, which had been issued without my authorization," said Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski, adding that an investigation had been ordered.

He said Polish troops were likely to have interpreted the 2003 inscription on the missiles as the year of their production. "And this could have been, for example, the date up to which they are fit to be used," he said.

The Defense Ministry said Friday that Polish troops in Iraq had discovered four French-made Roland missiles, which are part of short-range air defense systems in many countries including France and Germany.

A Polish Defense Ministry spokesman said the missiles were manufactured in 2003, but the French Foreign Ministry promptly denied that, saying production of the most modern Roland 3 rocket ended in 1993.

Production of the Roland 2, the type most recently sent to Iraq, ended in 1988, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said. The Roland 3 was never exported to Iraq, the ministry said.

"There could not be any 2003 missiles because those missiles have not been manufactured for 15 years," Chirac told a news conference at a European Union summit in Rome.

"I believe the Polish soldiers have created confusion that could have been avoided with thorough verification," he said, adding that he had made the point to Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller "in a friendly but frank and firm way."

The spat briefly sent France's relations with Poland, the biggest of 10 countries set to join the EU next year, to fresh lows after Chirac criticized Warsaw for supporting the U.S.-led war in Iraq, some diplomats said.

But a senior French diplomatic source told reporters that after the Polish apology, "France was satisfied and the issue was clarified."

"The issue had weighed to some extent on the summit. But after our clarifications it has been put behind us," said Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz.

Many Polish politicians have not forgiven Chirac, an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war, for his remark this year that Poland and other EU newcomers "missed a good opportunity to keep quiet" when they signed a joint open letter in support of the U.S.-led war.

France has been irritated by Poland's refusal to accept a new EU voting system in a draft constitution that EU members and newcomers debated in Rome.

The U.S. gave a Polish-led force control over a zone in south-central Iraq after Poland emerged as one of its strongest allies in the war.

A French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Friday that Roland 1 missile systems were sent to Iraq from 1980 to 1981 and Roland 2 systems from 1983 to 1986.

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