February 2, 2006

Dutch parliament votes troops to Afghanistan

By Wendel Broere

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch lawmakers on Thursday voted in
favor of sending up to 1,400 troops to Afghanistan after being
pressed by NATO allies to join their deployment in the
country's south and allow some U.S. forces to withdraw.

"The bill has been accepted," the parliamentary speaker
said after observing that the largest parties had voted in

The decision helps NATO expand its forces in the country.
It was delayed from last year because of reservations within
the Netherlands, but NATO, U.N. and Afghan leaders have pleaded
in recent days for Dutch support for the mission.

"The cabinet wants our soldiers to contribute to security
and reconstruction in Uruzgan. I have seen that there is very
broad support in parliament so the mission can go ahead," Prime
Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said at the end of the debate in

The government will take the formal decision to send troops
on Friday after a cabinet meeting.

With political and social unease disturbing the usually
placid Netherlands, and a sluggish economy, the Dutch have been
turning inward, away from a tradition of international

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, a Dutchman,
urged his country to send troops, as did U.N. Secretary-General
Kofi Annan and Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah,
speaking in The Hague on Monday.

The main parties in the center-right government want more
Dutch soldiers to join troops from Britain and Canada to help
NATO expand into southern Afghanistan this year, allowing some
U.S. forces fighting the Taliban to withdraw.

Hans van Baalen, of the free market liberal VVD, the third
largest party, said in parliament:

"It's time for us to show some guts, let's do that ...
Fighting terrorism is in the Netherlands' interest and in the
interest of Afghanistan."


The liberal D66, the smallest party in the coalition that
is trying to boost its flagging profile ahead of a 2007
election, had threatened to pull out over the issue but rowed

The party asked how reconstruction work was possible in the
unstable province of Uruzgan.

"Is this, in fact, not simply a terrorism-fighting mission
disguised as a reconstruction effort and thus limited in its
ability to act?" D66 parliamentarians said in an open letter.

Other lawmakers said any prisoners taken on the mission
should be treated humanely and asked the Dutch government to
set aside more money for reconstruction efforts.

The Dutch have been reluctant to take on risky military
engagements since the Srebrenica massacre in 1995.

Lightly armed Dutch U.N. soldiers lacking air support were
forced to abandon the Srebrenica enclave in Bosnia to Bosnian
Serb forces, who then killed up to 8,000 Muslims who had hoped
to be protected by the Dutch troops.

A small group of demonstrators stood outside parliament,
one wearing a mask representing U.S. President George W. Bush
and holding a puppet representing Dutch Prime Minister Jan
Peter Balkenende.

At his feet lay a dozen dolls made to look bloody and
bullet-riddled. "This will only make more Guantanamo Bays and
won't help peace," he said, referring to the U.S prison camp.

Britain and Canada are the other main contributors to the
enlarged force, and alliance officials have acknowledged it
would be hard to plug any gap left by the Dutch.

(Additional reporting by Svebor Kranjc in The Hague and Jon
Boyle in Paris)