Local residents across three municipalities in southeastern Estonia have expressed their worries about potentially being forced to sell their land and property, which in many cases would have been in the family for decades, ahead of a planned, large expansion to the existing Nursipalu training area, in Võru County.
While the exact dimensions and location of the expansion have not yet been publicly announced, it will largely affect Antsla and Rõuge rural municipalities, and to a lesser extent Võru Rural Municipality, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported.
Two existing training areas are located in an triangular area delineated by three points at Nursipalu, Sänna and Tsiatsungölmaa, all west of Võru town and around 15km apart.
The Nursipalu is currently 3,124 ha, in size, much of it marshland, but may, AK reported, grow up to four times in size.
One farmer, from Tsirgupalu, Rõuge Rural Municipality, one of the areas likely affected by the plan, said: "This household was created 1937-1938. To move out of here now just for money is actually not an easy question to answer. This situation cannot be resolved in an easy way."
"I don't want to talk too much, everyone is in the dark, where do these borders come from, who stays inside the border, who stays outside the border," the farmer, Tarvi Tuusis went on, adding: "It is a very difficult situation in general. I don't want to move even a table or anything else to another spot in this place."
Tuusis and other residents who spoke to AK stressed that they understood the necessity of the training facility, but found the lack of information and being kept in the dark frustrating.
Mati Alvela, a farmer from Nursi, said: "This requires a humane explanation. An explanation in simple words to an ordinary person, not in legalese. We need free legal aid for these people, all of these who might then be forced to leave."
Alvela noted that the situation was not an equal playing field, sitting across a tble from five ministry representatives, while local government spokespersons, too, say they are outraged by what they refer to as the ministry's silence, though they have just had a meeting on the issue, and say they plan to fight to get fair compensation for those affected.
Rõuge Rural Municipal Council chair Mati Kuklane said that inflation would eat up the sums people receive for the forced sale of their rural property. "Such a person will not relocated to the city or to an apartment in Rõuge [town]. Yes, the Ministry of Defense offered that they will build for them a new, beautiful apartment building. Well, this is absolutely unsatisfactory," he said.
Three municipalities in total have been notified about the plan, but have not yet received an announcement as to exactly how large an area is needed, AK reported.
The next meeting between municipal representatives and the ministry is due on November 21, Magnus-Valdemar Saar, who heads up the Center for Defense Investment (RKIK), under the auspices of the defense ministry, said: "However, with the exact details of how the danger areas are formed, which lands need to be acquired and to what extent we can expand at the expense of state lands, this is still being analyzed," he added, noting that private owners whose properties lie within the area of interest will be notified by month-end.
Saar said that making the 2nd infantry brigade fully mechanized will require larger and more suitable areas for tactical maneuvers and firing; the – CV-90 as used by the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) 1st Infantry Brigade's Scouts Battalion (Scoutspataljon) has a range, via its 35mm cannon, of around 7km.
The existing Nursipalu training ground is located on a little more than 3,000 ha of land but, while it is not known, or not announced, how large of an expansion will follow, local rumor has it that this will be in the order of 10,000-12,000 ha.
NATO personnel and materiel are also under consideration in respect of the training area; heavy tanks, for instance, are provided by all three NATO allies who regularly contribute to the enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup, namely the UK, France and Denmark, based at Tapa, in northern Estonia.
The Ministry of Defense and the RKIK have informed the representatives of the three municipalities about the training area plans in general terms, AK reported.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael