Balkenende rallies support for Afghan mission

10th January 2006, Comments 0 comments

UPDATED: 11 January 2006, AMSTERDAM — Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende called on parliament on Tuesday evening to end the political deadlock over the controversial military mission to Afghanistan.

UPDATED: 11 January 2006

AMSTERDAM — Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende called on parliament on Tuesday evening to end the political deadlock over the controversial military mission to Afghanistan.

*sidebar1*Balkenende made clear to a party meeting in Groningen he was determined the Netherlands will send 1,200 soldiers to southern Afghanistan to assist in the US-led campaign against the Taliban.

The Prime Minister said MPs had to stop squabbling over procedure and have a proper debate about the important issues surrounding the mission.

A majority in parliament has refused in recent weeks to hold such a debate until the coalition government takes a definite decision on whether to send the troops. Due to the doubts of junior coalition party D66, ministers have only expression an "intention" rather than a firm decision.

This has led to mounting frustration among the country's allies, and the US in particular.
Balkenende told the meeting in Groningen that a substantive debate had to be held as soon as possible as "the Afghan people expect this of us, and the international community expects it of us".

He voiced unhappiness, however, about some of the strong language used in the US about the delay. He said it showed "too little respect for what the Netherlands has done over the years for the international community." The Netherlands already has 600 soldiers in Afghanistan.

The Prime Minister held private talks with his deputies, Liberal leader Gerrit Zalm and D66 Minister Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, earlier on Tuesday to map out a strategy for the debate.

Daniel Fried, Washington's Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, said on Tuesday the US government was perplexed by the Dutch hesitation.

Fried said the debate about the mission had become "overheated". Whatever the Dutch decided, he said, Nato would make good on its commitment to send 6,000 more troops to southern Afghanistan.

Dutchman and Nato boss, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, also called on The Hague to back the deployment. General Dick Berlijn, commander of the Dutch military, said this week the Netherlands must provide the troops.

Balkenende's cabinet put off the decision late last year due to concerns within his coalition government and in parliament about the mission.

Ministers tried to leave the issue up to parliament, but MPs announced they would not vote on the deployment until the Cabinet made a decision first.

Balkenende's Christian Democrats (CDA) are worried about safety issues, while Zalm's Liberals are the only government party behind the mission 100 percent.

D66 is against the mission. Its representatives in government, Brinkhorst and Reform Minister Alexander Pechtold had hoped to avoid a confrontation by leaving it to parliament to back or kill the mission.

On Monday, former American diplomat Paul Bremer III warned a decision not to send more troops in Afghanistan would be damaging for Dutch interests in the US.

President George W. Bush appointed Bremer the Director of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for post-war Iraq on 6 May 2003. He served as the effective civil ruler of the country until Iraqi sovereignty was restored on 28 June 2004.

Bremer was US ambassador to the Netherlands from 1983 until 1986 when he became Ambassador-at-Large for Counterterrorism for the US.

[Copyright Expatica News + ANP 2006]

Subject: Dutch news + Afghanistan

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