Austria plans to deploy soldiers at the Brenner border with Italy to stem an expected increase in migrants trying to get to northern Europe, Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil told a German newspaper on Saturday.
Austria, which has broken ranks with Germany in handling Europe's migrant crisis by imposing border restrictions, has previously said it is preparing to introduce tighter controls if needed. But the minister's choice of words appears to have intensified the discourse.
"As the EU's external borders are not yet effectively protected, Austria will soon ramp up strict border controls. That means massive border controls on the Brenner [Pass], and with soldiers," Doskozil told Die Welt daily.
Soldiers could support border protection and also help with registration of migrants, aid the humanitarian effort and assist with deportations, he said.
A spokesman for Doskozil was not immediately available to comment.
Doskozil also reiterated his call for a civil-military European Union mission to support the bloc's border agency Frontex where needed at external borders, possibly in Greece, Bulgaria or Italy.
With the main migrant route through the Balkans and Austria largely closed, due largely to Austrian border restrictions, Vienna fears new routes will develop through Bulgaria or Albania as Mediterranean crossings to Italy from Libya resume.
On Monday, a deal takes effect between the EU and Turkey which is aimed at stopping the flow of migrants to Europe in return for political and financial rewards for Ankara, sealing off the main route by which a million migrants crossed the Aegean into Greece last year.
"We expect strong use to be made of the central Mediterranean route in the coming weeks," said Doskozil.
"Last week alone, 5,000 refugees came via the central Mediterranean route. When the weather gets better, these numbers will increase strongly," he added.
The Austrian army is already helping police handle migrants at its borders.