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Bot demands greater UN role in Iraq

12 May 2004

AMSTERDAM — After the first death of a Dutch soldier in Iraq, Foreign Minister Ben Bot urged US Secretary of State Colin Powell on Tuesday to push hard for a new United Nations resolution giving the organisation a greater role in the war-torn nation.

Powell telephoned Bot to express his sympathy at the death of the 36-year-old Dutch sergeant — identified as Dave Steensma, of Schaarsbergen — who was killed in a grenade attack on Monday. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Bot — who is backing an extension of the Dutch peacekeeping mission beyond the 30 June transfer of power to the Iraqis — told Powell that a new UN resolution would make it easier for the Dutch government to keep its troops in Iraq for a longer period.

The Dutch Cabinet is only likely to gain support from the Christian Democrat CDA and the Liberal VVD for keeping its troops in Iraq. The third coalition member, Democrat D66, has made its support for the extended mission conditional on the UN takes on a greater role in Iraq.

A parliamentary majority is needed to extend the mission. If the D66 votes against the Cabinet’s expected decision to prolong the security mission, the government will lack the required number of votes in the Lower House of Parliament.

But the populist LPF — which is backing the mission’s extension, albeit for a shorter period of time than suggested by the Cabinet — could give the CDA and VVD the necessary number of votes to push the plan through the Lower House, or the Tweede Kamer.

The left-wing opposition parties, Labour PvdA, the Socialist Party and green-left GroenLinks, are demanding the withdrawal of the nation’s troops. The smaller ChristenUnie has not formed its official stance, Dutch public news service NOS reported.

The Cabinet has not yet decided to extend the mission, but must do so in coming weeks. If only the CDA, VVD and LPF back the extension, only a small majority of MPs will be in favour of the plan. In the past, Dutch troops have been deployed with the support of all political parties.

But Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has said that the “powers of terrorism must not conquer. The work of the Dutch troops in Iraq will be continued”.

“We knew and we know that the work is not without risk. We are doing everything to guarantee the safety of the soldiers as much as possible,” Balkenende said.

“The attack was not an attack by the Iraqi people. It was individuals who wish to sow discord and doubt.”

Two Dutch soldiers were injured — one fatally — when grenades were thrown at a patrol from a motorbike on a bridge over the Euphrates River in the city As Samawah on Monday, but Iraqi police quickly arrested two suspects. Balkenende said the arrests indicated that a good co-operative relationship still existed in Iraq.

He also said the work of Dutch troops in Iraq was of great importance and is highly appreciated by the local population. He said the death of Sergeant Steensma was deeply regretted by the population of Al Muthanna.

Defence Minister Henk Kamp — who, like Prime Minister Balkenende, cut short a holiday and returned to the Netherlands on Tuesday — has also said that a broad majority backing the mission’s extension is desirable, but not necessary.

Balkenende, Kamp, Bot and Deputy Prime Minister Thom de Graaf met in The Hague on Tuesday night to discuss the situation, newspaper De Volkskrant reported.

There are about 1,260 Dutch troops stationed in Al Muthanna, an area which has largely been spared the violence seen elsewhere in Iraq. But two mortar attacks and several recent shootings involving Dutch troops have raised political concerns about security.

But a survey from NOS Journal has indicated that the death of the Dutch soldier strengthened the public’s resolve about the peacekeeping mission. A total of 40 percent are now backing the mission’s extension, opposed to 35 percent two weeks ago.

The survey also indicted that 37 percent are in favour of an immediate withdrawal, opposed to 42 percent in April and 40 percent six months ago.

A Maurice de Hond survey indicated that 53 percent of the population is opposed to an extension, compared with 40 percent in favour of an extended mandate. But the number of people backing the longer stay in Iraq rose by 6 percent compared with last month.

Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Subject: Dutch news + Iraq