Slovenian Military, Minister Face Growing Pressure Over Italy Border Incident

By , 12 Jun 2020, 10:46 AM Politics
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STA, 11 June 2020 - The Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF) and Defence Minister Matej Tonin came under significant pressure in Thursday, a day after it transpired that soldiers likely had been involved in an incident on the border with Italy despite initial indications to the contrary. Responding to demands for clarification, SAF vowed to help investigate the matter.

After initial reports that the incident happened on 8 May, the SAF said there had been no soldiers in the area that day, while Tonin labelled the report fake news.

In late May, the newspaper Primorski Dnevnik reported that a civilian was stopped at gunpoint by two Slovenian soldiers on the Slovenian-Italian border near Trieste the previous week.

SAF press officer Colonel Marjan Sirk told the press today that the SAF had looked into the movements of all patrols in the week specified but later also on 8 May, the date subsequently provided to the SAF by the journalist who wrote the piece.

Looking into the whereabouts of troops on 8 May, the SAF reported that no military patrols had been in the area that day.

But commercial broadcaster POP TV reported yesterday that the police investigation, which had been launched, had found the incident took place a day earlier and that the man who was stopped at gunpoint had identified the two men who stopped him in photographs.

According to unofficial sources, the police force had taken recorded soldiers when they reported for duty.

The investigation has since been picked up by the Defence Ministry's Intelligence and Security Service (OVS) because there had been Slovenian troops in the area on 7 May.

Before Sirk took questions from reporters, the Chief of the General Staff Brigadier General Robert Glavaš gave a statement ensuring that the military will cooperate in the investigation as it wants to determine what happened.

"It is in the interest of all of us, and above all in the interest of the military, that this event be investigated. We do not allow misuse of powers. Any anomaly must be sanctioned," said Glavaš.

Glavaš also expressed surprise that an inter-ministerial task force had not been formed in the wake of the incident. The relevant government decree on military's assistance to the police on the border stipulates that the ministries of interior and defence form a special task force in case of violations.

He also said that the military had been assisting the police in border controls since 2015, having carried out a total of 110,000 patrols along the border and this being the only such incident to date.

When asked why had soldiers been assisting the police on the Italian border, not the one with Croatia, where illegal migrants enter the country, Sirk said this was a question for the police, because the military only followed orders by police in this capacity.

He also said that soldiers were obligated to report on encounters to their superiors, but not on all encounters. He said no official report about such an incident had been made, and no information about this had reached the HQ in Ljubljana.

When asked about the use of weapons by the troops helping the police control the border, Sirk said that soldiers were allowed to use force and that this would have depended on their assessment of the situation. After all, civilians are allowed to use force in self-defence as well, he said.

The 32-year-old civilian told Primorski Dnevnik that he was stopped by two Slovenian soldiers while taking a walk with his girlfriend near the border in the woods above the Glinščiva Valley (Val Rosandra).

He also said that they let him go, when they realised he spoke Slovenian and had told him they were patrolling the area for illegal migrants.

Today, all parliamentary parties have expressed expectation that the incident be investigated and that Tonin provide clarifications.

While coalition parties expressed confidence that Tonin would be able to provide clarifications, the opposition was more critical, with the Left's MP Matej T. Vatovec that this was a "massive international incident without comparison".

The party also accused Tonin of trying to cover it up when he said that the Primorski Dnevnik report was fake news. Vatovec also indicated that Tonin may face an ouster motion over this.

Earlier today, Tonin met with President Borut Pahor, the supreme commander of the SAF, with the latter tweeting that he expected a thorough written report about the incident.

Last night, Tonin appeared in the late news show Odmevi. When asked whether he considered resigning, Tonin said that more than 6,000 people worked in defence. "If the minister would have to take responsibility for each mistake they make, we'd soon run out of ministers."

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