Dutch govt clash over troops

February 20, 2010 12:00 am

, THE HAGUE, Feb 20 – The Dutch governent collapsed Saturday after coalition parties clashed over a NATO request to extend the Netherlands\’ military mission in Afghanistan, the prime minister said.

Jan Peter Balkenende made the announcement after more than 16 hours of talks failed to save his three-year-old centre-left coalition, the fourth Dutch government to crumble since 2002.

"Later today, I will offer to her majesty the Queen the resignations of the (12) ministers and deputy ministers of the (Labour Party) PvdA," the junior coalition partner, the prime minister told journalists in The Hague.

He said he would also "make available" the 12 cabinet positions of his own Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), the majority partner, as well as the three held by the smaller Christian Union (CU).

Parliamentary elections, scheduled for March next year, will now have to be brought forward with polls predicting Balkenende\’s CDA and the Labour Party to lose seven seats and 13 seats respectively in the 150-seat assembly.

The CDA currently holds 41 seats and the PvdA 33.

"New elections will be held," deputy defence minister and CDA member Jack de Vries told reporters after Saturday\’s briefing.

In the latest in a string of coalition rows, vice-premier Wouter Bos angered his cabinet colleagues this week by saying the Labour Party would not support extending the Dutch deployment in Afghanistan beyond 2010.

Balkenende insisted that the matter be thrashed out in cabinet, and the CU chided the leftist leader for speaking out of turn.

The public spat resulted in a snap parliamentary debate Thursday, with MPs accusing Bos of using the Afghanistan deployment, unpopular with Dutch voters, for political gain ahead of March 3 municipal elections.

"As the leader of the cabinet, I came to the conclusion that there is no fruitful path for the CDA, PvdA and Christian Union to take into the future," Balkenende said on Saturday, lamenting a breakdown in mutual trust.

"For days we have seen that unity has been affected by … statements that clash with recent cabinet decisions. These statements place a political mortgage on collegial deliberation."

NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen asked the Netherlands earlier this month to take on a new training role and remain in Afghanistan until August 2011, a year longer than planned.

The request had required unanimous cabinet approval.

De Vries said the future of the mission now "depends on what the new government will decide".

"For 16 hours we tried to find a solution," added CDA foreign minister Maxime Verhagen. "I regret the fact that the will was lacking to consider all the options."

Bos, who said he hoped for new elections before the summer, said there was broad support in society and parliament for his party\’s stance on Afghanistan.

"No good reason" for an extension of the mission has been forthcoming, he added.

"Under the circumstances, the PvdA could no longer credibly form part of this cabinet," the finance minister said.

"The PvdA remains committed to the cabinet decision of 2007 to end the Dutch contribution to the military mission in Uruzgan in December 2010."

Around 1,950 Dutch troops are deployed in Afghanistan\’s Uruzgan province, where opium production is high, under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

The Dutch mission, which started in 2006, has already once been extended by two years and has cost 21 soldiers\’ lives.

This was Balkenende\’s fourth government in a row in eight years. All have collapsed before their mandate expired.

"Through a protracted build-up of mistrust, the cabinet was no longer governing, strife was governing," reacted Agnes Kant, leader of the main opposition Socialist Party.

"The cabinet has lost all credibility."


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