Collapse of Dutch coalition deals blow to Nato
THE fall of the Dutch government yesterday, just two days short of the coalition's third anniversary, all but guarantees that the 2,000 Dutch troops in Afghanistan will be brought home this year -- and will eventually prompt new parliamentary elections.
The collapse, the fourth for a cabinet led by Jan Peter Balkenende in eight years, came after the two largest parties in the coalition failed to agree on whether to withdraw troops from Afghanistan this year as planned.
"I unfortunately note that there is no longer a fruitful path for the Christian Democrats, Labour Party and Christian Union to go forward," Mr Balkenende, who leads the centre-right Christian Democrats, told reporters.
Mr Balkenende wanted to extend the Dutch troop deployment in the Nato-led mission in Afghanistan past an August deadline, but Deputy Prime Minister Wouter Bos's Labour Party opposed any extension. Nato had asked the Netherlands, among the top 10 contributing nations to the mission, to investigate the possibility of a longer stay in Afghanistan as the alliance seeks to contain the Taliban insurgency.
The collapse came after more than 15 hours of talks.
Nato spokesman James Appathurai said Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen respected the Dutch discussion and Nato would not interfere.
"The secretary general continues to believe that the best way forward for the mission would be a new smaller Dutch mission to consolidate the progress that the Dutch have made until now, and to help the process of transition to Afghan lead," he said.
Parliamentary elections could be held mid-year at the earliest, but a new government may prove difficult to establish -- with opinion polls suggesting four or five parties may be needed to secure a majority coalition in the 150-seat parliament.
Twenty-one Dutch soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan.