The volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit) in the southwestern city of Pärnu is planning a land swap which would give it a new training area.
The 30ha of land the Defense League wants, would be exchanged, through the Pärnu City government, for two built-up plots which the organization's Pärnu Defense District (Malev) owns. If this deal falls through, the Defense League says it has a back-up plan relating to a plot in nearby Tori.
If the Pärnu deal goes ahead, it would see a city center property, formerly headquarters of the Western District Rescue Center, along with a property on Tallinn mnt, transferred to the city government, in exchange for land near the airport, just north of the city.
The training area would be used for close-quarter combat training but would not see live-firing exercises take place.
However, the zone is close to an accommodation and recreation development called the Fishing Village (Karluriküla).
One local resident, Jakob Kose, told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) that: "The city of Pärnu could stick to its master plan," he said.
"This was approved around a year ago, it constitutes general land, a recreation area and similar activities … on five hectares. At the moment, the Defense League says they wouldn't even cut down the trees, and that the land as it is would be perfectly suitable.
"Noone is questining the importance of national defense; it is obviously needed. But instead, alternative solutions should be thought of in this case," Kose went on.
Tõnu Miil, commander of the Pärnu County Defense District, said that the area was too small for live firing to take place – this goes on at an 800ha facility at Kikepera, in a more sparsely populated zone just to the southeast of the city.
The plot of land the Defense League is looking at is also across the road from the defense district building itself, and would include the remains of the former Sauga manor house (pictured).
City planning has the plot down as a public recreation and green zone; naturally were the Defense League to take onwership of it, it would need to be rezoned along those lines.
It was Pärnu city council itself which initiated the change.
An alternative, however, is at Tori, around 25km from Pärnu, where land close to an airfield could be made available to the Defense League.
Municipal Mayor Lauri Luur (Isamaa) said that the 20ha plot is in fact more suitable for the task than the Pärnu location, adding that the authorities at Tori will start the exchange process in written form.
The changed security situation has led to focus on the organization and its relationship with the regular Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) and in particular with reservists. A planned regional defense scheme would see EDF reservists, mostly ex-conscripts, teaming up with the Defense League district (Malev) closest to where they reside, the rationale being that defense of a region familiar to a unit would prove more effective.
This light infantry force would complement the two EDF infantry brigades, covering North and South Estonia between them, both of which are mechanized, heavy infantry units along with supporting arms and services.
An exercise last week involved all three of the Defense League's western districts, namely Pärnu, Saaremaa and Lääne (incorporating Hiiumaa) malevs, was visited by President Alar Karis and by EDF commander Gen. Martin Herem, as well as by Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming