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Tuesday, October 09, 2001, updated at 23:21(GMT+8)

NATO Starts to Deploy Navy Force in East Mediterranean

NATO allies cleared a US request Tuesday for NATO warships to stage a show of force in the eastern Mediterranean.

An unspecified number of NATO warships were on their way to the eastern Mediterranean "where they will provide a NATO presence and demonstrate alliance resolve," NATO spokesman Mark Laity said at the alliance's Brussels headquarters.

The move, which diplomats called largely politically symbolic, was one of the eight measures NATO agreed to take to support the United States in its fight against terrorism, following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington DC.

NATO decided last week the attacks were reasons for invoking its mutual defense clause, which states that an armed attack on one of the allies should be considered an attack on all.

Sending the ships -- corvettes and smaller vessels -- was further evidence of the "absolute commitment" NATO made to the United States under Article 5 of its founding treaty, the mutual defense clause, Laity said.

The United States and Britain have launched strikes against military positions of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and training camps of the al-Qaida network of militant Osama bin Laden, who Washington believes plotted the September 11 attacks.

The United States was asked to make specific requests for the use of NATO early warning aircraft and the redeployment of some NATO ships in the eastern Mediterranean.

NATO ambassadors agreed Monday that five NATO AWACS surveillance aircraft would be sent to the United States to free up U.S. aircraft for anti-terrorism operations elsewhere.

Laity said he did not know which countries were supplying the warships but said they would remain under NATO control.

Other steps pledged by the 19-member bloc to help the Americans include the unlimited use of air space, access to ports, airfields and refueling facilities.

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NATO allies cleared a US request Tuesday for NATO warships to stage a show of force in the eastern Mediterranean.

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