Minister regrets comments over Schiphol fire

20th September 2006, Comments 0 comments

20 September 2006, AMSTERDAM — A Dutch minister has been forced to withdraw his defence of colleagues who risk losing their jobs over the fatal fire at the Schiphol detention centre last year.

20 September 2006

AMSTERDAM — A Dutch minister has been forced to withdraw his defence of colleagues who risk losing their jobs over the fatal fire at the Schiphol detention centre last year.

Social Affairs Minister Aart Jan De Geus told Radio 1 news on Wednesday morning that the fire which killed 11 people awaiting deportation was "skulduggery".

"An inmate started the fire maliciously but we in the Netherlands turn the world on its head to apportion blame to others," the Christian Democrat politician said.

De Geus backtracked hours later after MPs expressed outrage. He acknowledged he should not have described the fire as "skulduggery" or have tried to assign guilt to the inmate who was in the cell where the blaze started.

The minister said it was foolish of him to comment as he did not know enough about the case in order to draw conclusions. "It was a terrible tragedy. A judge will decide issues of guilt and political debate is allowed. I should not have tried to get ahead of this. I should have stayed quiet," De Geus admitted on Wednesday afternoon.

A report by the Dutch Safety Board into the fire is to be published on Thursday. It is likely to be very critical about the roles played by officials in government ministries.

It was suggested in a draft of the report, already leaked to the media, that fewer people would have died had officials adhered to construction and safety regulations.

This puts ministers Piet Hein Donner (Justice) and Sybilla Dekker (Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment) in a difficult position. Political sources in The Hague are bracing themselves for the possibility the two may resign.

[Copyright Expatica News + ANP 2006]

Subject: Dutch news

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