Who is responsible for the Libyan helicopter fiasco? Top foreign affairs and defence civil servants are doing their utmost not to drop their ministers in it and relations between the two departments are showing signs of strain. Prime minister Mark Rutte is said to have intervened personally, writes the Volkskrant.
The showdown is on Tuesday. By then a letter explaining how Dutch military ineptness once again made international headlines should land on MPs’ desks. At the end of February the crew of a Dutch helicopter was captured by troops loyal to Gaddafi during a failed attempt to bring to safety a Dutch national and at least one other European.
The ministers themselves aren’t quarrelling, the civil servants say. But the traditional rivalry between the departments of foreign affairs and defence has been turned up a notch and there is much at stake, especially since both Uri Rosenthal and Hans Hillen have not come through their first six months unscathed.
Insiders don’t expect Tuesday’s letter to contain a satisfactory answer to what lead up to the remarkable trip taken in a Lynch helicopter from the frigate Hr Ms Tromp that was positioned off the Libyan coast. Three days before the provincial elections on March 2, a lightly armed crew tried to take on board two refugees without Libyan consent. A day after the elections the news of the failed attempt was leaked to the press. The Dutch soldiers remained in Libyan hands for a week and a half.
The two ministers have been fact finding ever since. Rosenthal took it so seriously he handed in a detailed account, making civil servants at the defence department very nervous. If all that found its way into the letter, mps would be scoring in front of an open goal. Rutte heard what they were saying and is said to have decided a shortened version would have to do.
Last Saturday one of the refugees came up with some new material for the fact finding ministers. A Swedish teacher who was to be picked up by the Dutch told her story to NRC Handelsblad. Rose Eriksson and a Dutch engineer saw the Dutch helicopter land and its crew arrested by some forty Gaddafi supporters. They were laughing, according to Eriksson, and branded the action ‘not a clever thing to do’. Army commander Peter van Uhm last week said the endeavour seemed ‘do-able’. It failed nevertheless and Hillen en Rosenthal will have to explain why while trying to keep the amount of egg on their face about equal.
A parliamentary debate on the subject is not likely to happen this week. The prime minister is going to Brussels on Wednesday for European finance talks. The coalition parties want him there.
This is an unofficial translation
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