Dutch defense minister, military chief resign over peacekeeper deaths

Dutch defense chief Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert has resigned after a report found that her ministry had allowed standards to slip. The report was prompted by the deaths of two peacekeepers at a Dutch base in Mali.

A Dutch safety board report into the deaths of two UN peacekeeping troops in Mali last year claimed two political victims on Tuesday.

Politics | 28.09.2017

Dutch Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert and military chief Tom Middendorp both resigned after the report condemned the country's Defense Ministry of "serious shortcomings" in its care for peacekeeping troops stationed in the African country.

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"I have put my heart and soul into serving in the Defense Ministry," Hennis-Plasschaert told lawmakers Tuesday. "But it stops here, today."

She served as defense minister for five years and had been instated as caretaker minister following the Netherlands' national election in March.

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She had been likely to play a key role in Prime Minister Mark Rutte's new government, which was expected to be announced in the coming days.

The outgoing defense minister also announced that Middendorp was resigning. The former defense chief general had been due to leave this week anyway, but a ceremony to mark his departure would no longer take place, it was reported.

'Serious shortcomings'

The Dutch Defense Ministry was found to have had rushed to buy mortar shells back in 2006 "with the help of the US Department of Defense amid a pressure of time." The Dutch military confirmed the purchase without carrying out the necessary checks, believing instead that American forces had already tested the weapons' safety.

However, the safety report said the sales contract had clearly stated that this was not the case and US authorities had given no guarantee regarding the munitions quality and security.

The shells were later found to have "weak points" that allowed moisture to seep through. When combined with Mali's hot temperatures, that moisture made the detonators "unstable and shock-sensitive," the report found.

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The incident that sparked calls for an independent inquiry saw two UN peacekeeping troops die after a shell exploded unexpectedly during a training exercise at a Dutch military base in Kidal, Mali. Another soldier was seriously injured by shrapnel.

The report concluded that under Hennis-Plasschaert's watch, the ministry had continued to let safety and medical standards slip, after the injured soldier was taken to a  Togolese hospital "which did not meet Dutch military guidelines."

Read more: UN finds mass graves in northern Mali town

The Netherlands has been part of the UN's mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, since April 2014, deploying about 400 troops, as well as helicopters.

Around 80 UN peacekeepers have been killed during, MINUSMA making it the most deadly UN mission since Somalia in 1993 to 1995.

dm/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)