A brawl involving off-duty British soldiers and local residents in the town of Tapa, Lääne-Viru County last Saturday evening is the first of its kind, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Thursday night. The incident is still under investigation, though criminal charges have been pressed by one man, AK reported.
If a vox pop of locals, of diverse ages, taken by AK was anything to go by, however, issues of poor behavior persist.
Tapa is home to a major NATO base, one which has been home to the Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup since early 2017. The battlegroup is U.K.-led.
The city's mayor, Riho Tell (Reform) told AK that while banning soldiers based at the nearby NATO base would be one solution, it was not one that either he nor local residents wanted.
Liaising with allied and Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) leadership would be preferable, Tell said.
"A solution is for us to try to make it clear to the leadership of the [EDF] 1st Infantry Brigade and the allied leadership that behavior in the cultural space needs to be as per custom here," Tell said.
Such behavior, one younger local resident, Keimo, said involved scuffles sometimes.
"It happened twice last weekend. Once was just pushing and the second time, what you've seen in the video," Keimo told AK.
The video referred to appeared on the website of local daily Virumaa Teataja, and shows what appear to be British Royal Military Police (RMP) personnel pinning one local man to the ground, dragging a local woman across the ground and warding off another local woman who had approached the scene, which included the use of what appeared to be a raised baton-type implement. Two British men also approached the scene, which followed the brawl which had broken out around 8.00 p.m.
Estonian military police (Sõjavöepolitsei) were also on the scene, AK reported.
Other local residents painted a more conducive portrait. "They're terribly polite people...Our people aren't that polite," one man, who said he worked as a taxi driver in Tapa, told AK.
However, another local, Niina, who runs a fruit market stall, said that while communication she had with allied soldiers was normal enough, they ought to sort themselves out.
"They are often drunk on the street and do not behave politely. They shout, acting as if they are the only ones in the town. They don't care about women, children or the elderly – they behave with a lack of dignity," Niina told AK.
One Estonian citizen, reportedly a member of the EDF, involved in last Saturday's event has pressed charges with the Police and Border Guard Board's (PPA) eastern prefecture, who have initiated a criminal investigating relating to the section of the penal code dealing with physical abuse, AK reported.
AK reported that Saturday's brawl between off-duty British soldiers involved four Estonians, one man and three women, who had been sitting for some hours in the outdoor terrace of a local café and pizza restaurant – current coronavirus restrictions forbid dining indoors at restaurants etc. – in close proximity to the off-duty soldiers, who had also been there for some time.
A source told ERR News that the flashpoint came when some of the off-duty soldiers objected to what they perceived as maltreatment of one of the women by the man accompanying them.
The ensuing fight spilled out into the nearby street, and one of the British soldiers had called the police, AK reported, most likely the RMP patrol depicted in the video, given that the military base is only around 2km away and that, by agreement, RMP personnel generally deal with any situations involving allied personnel – which in the NATO battlegroup has also included significant numbers of Danish, French and Belgian troops – rather than the PPA.
The man seen in the video who was being detained is heard to shout: "You're beating my wife."
The cafe's owner reiterated to AK what a spokesperson for the same business had told Viru Teataja, that the local soldiers when off base and in the café are generally well-behaved.
Additionally, the arrival of the warmer weather and the easing of coronavirus restrictions which has permitted the opening of restaurant terraces until 9 p.m. has been accompanied by a spike in rowdier behavior, she said, adding that the café had already spoken to RMP personnel about closing time, and that the RMP had informed the café to call them if there were any issues with off-duty soldiers adhering to the closing regulations.
The director of a local high school said that he had not seen anything untoward take place on the premises of the school, but that if anything were to come to light, it would not be tolerated.
Reports had said that off-duty soldiers had been seen smoking within the premises of the school's stadium – which they are permitted to use for sports activities, in agreement with the local authorities.
Agreements are in place between Estonia and Britain for the policing of Tapa's streets by British RMP members, AK reported.
Commander of 1st Battalion, the Mercian Regiment, Lt. Col. Dean Canham, has said that complaints about soldiers' conduct are taken very seriously and that cooperation with local authorities has been established.
The investigation into last Saturday's incident is ongoing.
The original AK slot (in Estonian and Russian) is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte