Dutch defense minister steps down over fatal Mali accident

Source: Xinhua| 2017-10-04 03:41:01|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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THE HAGUE, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- The outgoing Dutch Minister of Defense Jeanine Hennis resigned on Tuesday after a report on the death of two Dutch soldiers in Mali last year concluded that her Ministry had been negligent.

With Hennis the Commander of the Armed Forces of the Netherlands, Tom Middendorp, the highest soldier of country, also stepped down. Middendorp already intended to quit and was supposed to hand over his responsibilities to his successor Rob Bauer on forthcoming Thursday.

During a parliamentary debate in The Hague on Tuesday Hennis received heavy criticism from other parties. All parties pointed at her responsibility as minister and some asked her to resign. Hennis, 44, was Minister of Defense since November 2012. She did not wait for a motion of disapproval and offered her resignation.

"Every day thousands of soldiers work for our safety under difficult circumstances, with so many kinds of weapons and so many kinds of ammunition," Hennis said. "We must ensure the safety of those soldiers. I have worked as Defense Minister for years with pleasure. But it stops here. I will offer my resignation to the King this evening."

Last Thursday the Dutch Safety Board, which conducted the investigation, concluded in a report that the Ministry of Defense had failed to secure the safety of the Dutch soldiers during the Mali mission. "This concerns both the safety of the weapons and providing good medical facilities," the report stated. "Carrying out the mission had been prioritized over weapon safety and good medical facilities."

The investigation was about an incident in Kidal, Mali, on July 6, 2016. During practice just outside the camp of the Dutch United Nations mission, a mortar set off a grenade, killing two soldiers and seriously wounding another.

The investigation showed that the mortar was properly loaded and that the grenade exploded with the safety lock still on. The grenade went off due to weak spots in the design, which allowed moisture to penetrate, the investigation revealed. The combination of that moisture and the high temperature led to the explosion.

The mortar grenades used by the Dutch soldiers were according to the report insufficiently tested for safety and quality after the purchase, originally for the military mission in Afghanistan in 2006. The Safety Board wrote that "high pressure and a 'can-do mentality' at the Dutch Defense organization meant that risks were underestimated and the usual checks and procedures were not followed". In addition, the investigation revealed that the medical care of the wounded failed.

After the report came out on Thursday Hennis already said that her Ministry would take measures to prevent such accidents in the future. She ordered an immediate operational break to carry out extra security checks for all current missions on ammunition and medical care.

Hennis also stressed she is politically responsible, but at that time she also said she did not yet think that resigning was the best solution. After the debate in the Dutch parliament on Tuesday she made up her mind and decided she had no other choice.

The departure of Minister Hennis is not only bad news for the outgoing cabinet of Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Hennis also was a major candidate for a ministerial post, possibly as Defense Minister again or as Foreign Minister, in the new cabinet of Rutte.

Hennis' and Rutte's rightist liberal party VVD are expected to finalize a coalition deal with CDA (Christian Democrats), D66 (Democrats) and ChristenUnie (Christian Union) at short notice.