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Police powers for military patrols? No, says minister

Defence minister Ludivine Dedonder (PS). © Belga

Federal defence minister Ludivine Dedonder (PS) has issued a formal refusal to consider a proposal from two N-VA MPs suggesting military personnel on street patrol be given more powers.

The proposal comes from Theo Francken, formerly secretary of state for asylum and migration, and party colleague Michael Freilich, calls for patrolling military personnel to be allowed to carry out simple tasks normally reserved for police, such as identity checks and stop-and-search.

At present, military patrols have only a security and deterrent role. They are allowed to intervene if there is a clear and present danger of terrorist action, but in all other cases are required to call in the police.

So, in 2017 a man was shot dead by soldiers in the Central station in Bruxelles after an explosion in the station – a case of justifiable homicide. However if a military patrol were confronted with a bank robbery, they would not be allowed to take action themselves.

A situation that is less than ideal, according to Freilich.

We don’t want to give them the general powers that the police have,” he told Gazet van Antwerpen. “We do want to prevent soldiers from having to look on helplessly.”

According to the two MPs, the framework in which the soldiers must work at present is too vague. And they recall a demand by Open VLD earlier this month for a more defined legal framework for their powers of intervention.

But for minister Dedonder, the answer is simply no. She sees no reason to allow military personnel to be allowed to carry out police tasks so far outside their normal responsibilities.

And certainly not in Antwerp, where the military presence is due to end in September

It will then be up to the police to take over the surveillance task from the military,” said Dedonder’s spokesperson.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times