- SOFIA, Bulgaria (Reuters)
-- A total of 62 Bulgarian soldiers have quit a peacekeeping unit due to
replace troops in Iraq after a car bomb killed five of their compatriots
last month, Chief of Staff Nikola Kolev said Wednesday.
- The Balkan country, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led
military campaign that toppled Saddam Hussein, has sent a 480- strong light
infantry battalion to serve in the Polish-led force in Iraq's holy city
- Bulgaria plans to rotate the peacekeepers in Kerbala
with another 480 soldiers by mid-February, but dozens of the new unit have
decided to abandon the mission after the Kerbala deaths.
- State radio quoted Kolev as saying some of the Bulgarian
contingent's duties would be taken over by coalition allies because of
increased tension among soldiers after the bombing.
- He did not say which duties the Bulgarians would give
- Kolev and President Georgi Parvanov went to a military
base in Kazanlak, central Bulgaria, Wednesday to kick off the rotation
of Iraq-based troops. The peacekeepers are volunteers from the NATO-candidate
country's professional army.
- The Kerbala deaths have sparked debate in Bulgaria about
security at their base in the Polish sector, with many asking why the troops
had not been better protected.
- Earlier this month 40 soldiers of the new Iraq-bound
unit said they would quit but later their number grew to 62, despite raised
payment and Sofia's attempts to boost morale.
- Tuesday the government raised daily pay to troops in
Kerbala to $82-$90 from $62-$75 after soldiers demanded their compensation
be doubled because of higher risk.
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