Estonia went into mourning on Sunday for two of its soldiers killed in Afghanistan - the first time the Baltic state has lost troops in the country. Twenty-four-year-old Sergeant Kalle Torn and 33-year-old Corporal Jako Karuks, both mine-clearance specialists, were killed in the southern province of Helmand on Saturday, the Estonian Defence Ministry announced.
Their deaths are seen as all the more poignant because Saturday was a double holiday in Estonia, marking both the midsummer feast and the victory of Estonian troops over German forces during the Independence War of 1919.
"It is deeply regrettable that we have to pay such a high price for defending our beliefs, but if we do not defend them, then nobody will defend us. It's in our interest to fight for peace and democracy in the whole world," Foreign Minister Urmas Paet wrote on a web-page of condolences set up by the defence ministry.
Estonia will remain with the multinational force in Afghanistan, he added.
Estonia's allies in Afghanistan also paid tribute to the dead.
"It is especially poignant that this tragedy occurred on Victory Day, as we remembered the heroic sacrifices made by Estonians as they fought for an independent Estonia," British Ambassador to Estonia Nigel Haywood wrote in a letter of condolence.
"Sergeant Torn and Corporal Karuks also fell in the service of their country, helping to build democracy in Afghanistan," he added.
Torn and Karuks were serving with Estonia's mine-clearance team in the troubled province when their patrol was attacked, apparently by missile, Baltic News Service BNS reported. Four other soldiers were injured in the blast, two seriously, officials said.
Estonia, a former Soviet republic which joined NATO and the EU in 2004, currently has an estimated 150 troops serving with multinational forces in Afghanistan, and up to 40 in Iraq.
In 2004, two Estonian soldiers were killed in Iraq, Foreign Office spokeswoman Ehtel Halliste told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.