October 8, 2018 / 1:10 PM / 2 months ago

Rescuers tackle staged fires, quakes in NATO-Serbia disaster drill

BELGRADE, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Hundreds of firefighters, rescuers and medical teams gathered outside Belgrade on Monday to tackle staged fires, earthquakes, road accidents and chemical disasters - in the biggest drill of its kind involving emergency teams from NATO and Serbia.

The three-day disaster response exercise, dubbed Srbija 2018, was meant to show Serbia the “benefits” of cooperation with NATO, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in the town of Mladenovac.

Serbia is one of the few Balkan states not in the 29-member NATO alliance, which remains hugely unpopular there since the 1999 bombing campaign staged to drive Serbian forces out of the now-independent Kosovo.

But it has signed cooperation agreements with the alliance and engaged in regular joint events and exercies.

The government in Belgrade is performing a delicate balancing act between its bid to join the European Union and its close ties with Russia, Serbia’s traditional Slavic and Orthodox Christian ally, which is also in control of most of its oil and gas supplies.

Monday’s exercises came just days after the air forces of Serbia and Russia trained combat missions at a military airbase just outside Belgrade. (Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Ivana Sekularac)

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