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Conings affair: Minister defends sacking of top officer

Minister Dedonder. ©Belga

The head of military intelligence was relieved of his post because he was unable to face the challenges of the job, defence minister Ludivine Dedonder told a parliamentary committee.

Dedonder (PS) was appearing in front of the parliament’s defence committee to answer questions about the sacking of Major-general Philippe Boucké last week.

The sacking came in the wake of the affair of fugitive soldier Jürgen Conings, signalled as a right-wing extremist by Boucké’s own service, and a potential terrorist.

According to an initial statement by Dedonder, the general agreed to step down by mutual agreement. She held to that argument today, despite a clear contradiction by Boucké himself yesterday.

Unusually for the defence ministry, a minister also finds herself in conflict with a group of other senior officers, who have spoken openly of their outrage at the sacking.

Dedonder took advantage of being the first to speak by scorching the earth. She told MPs that Boucké was not up to scratch with goings-on in his service – he took his job at the head of the intelligence service SGRS shortly before Dedonder was appointed to the ministry. He was unaware of the threat of Conings, and his communications skills were lacking.

Then, though, it was the turn of MPs to apply some heat to Dedonder’s claims. The problems with the SGRS were historic, and could not be blamed on Boucké. And the uprising on the part of fellow senior officers was nothing short of a mutiny.

“I’ve never seen the two top generals of the army say the opposite to the minister of defence,” said Theo Francken (N-VA), an opposition member of the committee.

“I don’t know who to believe. The army leadership turns against you, openly, and I have heard words like ‘cowardly’. You are not in control of the problems. You cannot say ‘I just came here, it is not my fault,’ at the same time as saying it is the fault of a general who has also just arrived, that is not possible.”

The committee’s meeting continues.