Thursday, 25 November 2021

Minister Worried About Drugs in Military

ZAGREB, 25 Nov 2021 - Defence Minister Mario Banožić on Wednesday expressed concern about narcotics in the military, saying they should be eradicated after a member of the special forces commands tested positive for cocaine.

"A clear instruction about zero tolerance has been given. Constant checks are being done. In that way, there are certain results every week and I am sure that we will eradicate this thing from the Croatian Army," the minister told Nova TV.

He said this was not a new problem and that no one wanted to tackle it seriously until now.

The latest case was discovered on Monday during extraordinary testing at Lora Naval Base in Split as part of the month of combating addiction.

It was not the first time that cocaine was discovered among members of the special forces command and Banožić said the whole situation worried him.

"As soon as you have any form of addiction in the environment, of course, it's not healthy and as such, it can't be part of the Croatian Army, as a moral message to society as well as for the development of Croatian soldiers in the system."

Earlier this month, police discovered five kilos of marijuana in the family house of an active serviceman in Dalmatia.

Asked if the drugs were for personal use or if this was something bigger, the minister said "there are certain conclusions based on the investigation done by the military criminal police that it's a larger quantity, just as the marijuana case we had last week. It seems there were five kilos. It suggests that it was not only for personal consumption."

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Monday, 22 November 2021

Croatian Contingent Given Send-Off to Kosovo Without Presence of Media, Minister

ZAGREB, 22 Nov 2021 - The 36th 130-strong Croatian Army Contingent, including six servicewomen, is being given a formal send-off on Monday to join NATO's KFOR peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. The media and the defence minister are not present at the ceremony.

The ceremony is taking place in the barracks of the 132nd Croatian Army Brigade in the eastern city of Našice without the presence of the media. It is being attended by President Zoran Milanović in his capacity as Commander in Chief of the Croatian Armed Forces, while Defence Minister Mario Banožić has canceled his attendance.

The Defence Ministry said that Banožić had canceled his attendance because neither he nor the contingent commander was scheduled to address the ceremony and because the media were not allowed into the barracks to cover the event.

"The Croatian Army is above all of us politicians. We are all transient, and it will exist as long as there is Croatia. I did not go to Našice for the send-off ceremony because I wanted no part in a show by the gentleman who unfortunately does not understand the first two sentences in this post. I wish the members of the 36th Croatian Contingent a safe journey and a successful mission. See you soon," the defence minister wrote on Facebook.

Although the Ministry's press office on Sunday invited the media to cover the event, the President's Office later said that the ceremony "does not envisage the participation of the media," adding that the public would be informed about the event in a press release which would include photographs.

Representatives of the media gathered outside the barracks gate on Monday morning but were denied entry.

The President's Office said that the sole purpose of the send-off ceremony was to show the commander in chief, military commanders, and the defence minister the contingent's readiness for the mission. "Such an important event for the military cannot and will not be used for anyone's daily political interests," it said.

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Saturday, 6 November 2021

FM Expects "Constructive Dialogue" With President at Meeting on Tuesday

ZAGREB, 6 Nov 2021 - Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said on Saturday he expected a constructive dialogue between the president of the republic and the prime minister at a meeting of the Defence and National Security Council on Tuesday in the interests of the functioning of the state, its institutions, and national interests.

President Zoran Milanović has proposed a meeting of the Defence and National Security Council because of the escalation of his conflict with Defence Minister Mario Banožić, whom he accused of politicizing the Armed Forces. The government proposed three dates for the meeting and Milanović chose 9 November.

"I expect a constructive dialogue, an exchange of views and proposals because we politicians and officeholders are accountable to our citizens. Everything that is in the interest of the functioning of the state and its institutions, national interests, will be on the table," Grlić Radman told reporters during a visit to his ministry's stall in Zagreb's Cvjetni Trg square as part of events marking the 25th anniversary of Croatia's membership of the Council of Europe.

"We are facing a serious task ... because Croatian citizens deserve what they need, and that is social stability, economic growth, a higher vaccination rate, and security. The government will provide an appropriate answer in that regard," he added.

Ambassadors are a priority

Speaking of filling ambassadorial positions, Grlić Radman dismissed Milanović's claim that he did not want an ambassadorial nominee because he was an ethnic Serb. "I never said that," Grlić Radman said, calling Milanović's claims "empty talk" and "base insinuations".

Grlić Radman said that ambassadors were a priority to him. "We have three important positions - Paris, Vilnius, and the Vatican, and they need to be filled. This will also be discussed" at the Defence and National Security Council meeting, he added.

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Friday, 5 November 2021

Defence Ministry Refutes President's Allegations About Irregularities

ZAGREB, 4 Nov 2021 - The defence ministry on Thursday refuted President Zoran Milanović's claims that the early retirement of Colonel Elvis Burčul was an act of abuse of the minister's powers, saying that in this case, it was the cessation of active military service with the right to a full age pension.

It is in the remit of the defence minister and not the armed forces' chief-of-staff to define the needs of the service for active military service personnel, in compliance with the law.

Responding to President Zoran Milanović's letter which he sent to Prime Minister Andrej Milanović accusing Minister Mario Banožić of wrongdoing, the ministry's statement says that the President cannot appoint a military commander without the consent of the defence minister.

The ministry also points out that sending Colonel Burčul into retirement is not within the jurisdiction of the Armed Forces' Chief-of-Staff, and proposals to that effect need not be made by the army chief-of-staff, and retirement is within the powers of the defence minister.

The explanation for the cessation of the service of Colonel Burčul as the commander of the Honorary and Protection Battalion cited the plan for the cessation of the active service of personnel in 2021 and not a list, as claimed by the president.

The plan is a document based on the law regulating service in the armed forces, the ministry says.

The plan was adopted unanimously at a college meeting chaired by the defence minister, and in attendance were the Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff and his deputies, says the ministry, adding that this plan also specifies a law-based criterion under which Colonel Burčul's active service ceased.

Concerning the President's objections to the poor equipment of the armed forces, the ministry recalls that the revised budget for 2021 increased defence outlays by HRK 2.387 billion.

The current financial plan has increased from HRK 4.8 billion to nearly HRK 7.2 billion, according to the statement.

The president accused Banožić of attending ministerial meetings in NATO and the EU without informing him "as the President of the Republic and Commander in Chief of the Croatian Armed Forces, and without obtaining consent for the positions he is presenting there on behalf of the Republic of Croatia."

The minister responded by saying that he had attended the EU and NATO ministerial meetings in accordance with the Constitution and laws.

The statement also dismissed the allegations about irregularities in the employment of staff at the Defence Ministry and countered that there were irregularities at the Office of the President.

Minister accused President of nepotism

Earlier on Thursday, Banožić reiterated his claims that Milanović had insisted on a specific officer to succeed Burčul, although the man concerned had no qualifications, that is necessary ranks, for that position.

Banožić elaborated that he had been asked to promote the officer concerned in an extraordinary procedure so that the candidate could meet the requirements for the new commander of the Honorary and Protection Battalion, which he refused to do. The minister described this as a pure example of nepotism on the part of the president.

He went on to say that he could forget all that had happened in recent days provided that all the activities are back within the framework of the Defence Act.

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Thursday, 4 November 2021

PM: Government Firmly Opposed to Politicization of the Military

ZAGREB, 4 Nov 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Thursday that the government was firmly opposed to any politicization of the Croatian armed forces, stressing that the position of Defence Minister Mario Banožić in his cabinet was absolutely stable.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Plenković said that the matter would be discussed by the Defence Council on Tuesday and that the meeting would be preceded by a preparatory meeting on Monday with the college of military commanders so that he could "hear first-hand what problems are facing the military and see how the government can help resolve them."

The pace of the fourth wave of the pandemic determined by those not vaccinated

Commenting on the largest daily count of new coronavirus cases in the country since the start of the pandemic, Plenković said he would see what would happen with case numbers in the coming days, adding that colder weather had contributed to the considerable increase in the number of confirmed cases.

He said that the monthly report submitted by the Croatian Public Health Institute showed that the epidemiological situation and the pace of the fourth wave of the infection were mostly determined by people who have not been vaccinated.

Last month, 65,558 new coronavirus cases were registered, of which 77 percent were people who were not fully vaccinated. 554 infected persons were placed on ventilators and 427 or 77.1 percent of them were not vaccinated. 578 people died and 75 percent of them were not vaccinated, the prime minister said.

He added that the majority of the people who had died from COVID-19 in October had underlying health conditions and were elderly. All 22 people aged below 50 who died from coronavirus last month were not vaccinated, he noted.

Plenković once again appealed to elderly people who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 to get vaccinated because nearly one in four people aged above 65 have not been immunized yet, which is more than 230,000 people.

He said that 1,922,763 people have been vaccinated to date, which is 56.7 percent of Croatia's adult population, expressing satisfaction that recent days have seen a rise in the number of newly-vaccinated people, albeit small.

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Thursday, 4 November 2021

President Writes to PM About Defence Minister's Unlawful Conduct

ZAGREB, 4 Nov 2021 - President Zoran Milanović on Thursday sent a letter to Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, warning him of "unacceptable and unlawful conduct by Defence Minister Mario Banožić" and calling on him to take action to enable the normal functioning and development of the Armed Forces.

In the letter, sent to Plenković on 28 October, the president claims that Banožić abused his powers by sending into early retirement the commander of the Honorary and Protection Battalion, Colonel Elvis Burčul.

Minister harassing, discriminating HV officer

Milanović says that Burčul's case is extremely important because it shows the minister's behavior pattern, notably in light of the fact that Burčul is a decorated officer, Homeland War volunteer, and commander of the unit in charge of the security of the President and Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief.

He recalls that the proposal to extend Burčul's term was sent to Banožić by the Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff, based on an assessment that it is in line with operational reasons and is a common procedure, with none of the former defence ministers ever having withheld their consent.

This time, the minister "not only withheld his consent but told the Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff and my defence and national security advisor that he would never sign any decision (to that effect) for the officer in question and that he must leave the army, without giving any justified reason for his position," Milanović says.

Milanović recalls having asked Banožić directly why he was withholding his consent and telling him that he would withdraw his proposal if there was a serious reason for the minister's position, to which the minister, without going into detail, repeated several times that "the Colonel is a bad person."

"The minister has the right to give or withhold his consent but he does not have the right to abuse that power," Milanović says in the letter, noting that sending Burčul into retirement was just that and that Banožić also falsely claimed that he had acted in line with the retirement plan for 2021 while Burčul's name was not on that list.

Noting that Banožić's decision was motivated by personal reasons, Milanović expresses hope that those reasons are not political, adding that the minister's conduct is an act of abuse of powers and harassment and discrimination of a Croatian Army officer.

Burčul's retirement is an attempt to politicize the Armed Forces and divide officers into suitable and unsuitable ones, those whom the minister likes and those he does not like, says Milanović.

"Neither you, as Prime Minister, nor I, as President and Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief can tolerate that," the president says in the letter.

He also cites a number of cases in which the defence minister enabled a set of personnel decisions at the Defence Ministry that is entirely contrary to the law.

Milanović notes that the minister was warned about and informed of problems regarding army personnel matters and the material situation and level of equipment of the army on a number of occasions but failed to act on it.

"That is why I have requested a session of the Defence Council to focus on that topic... The situation is not good and it requires urgent action," the president says in his letter.

Banožić makes statements in NATO, EU without the president's consent

The president further notes that Banožić attends NATO and EU ministerial meetings without informing him, as President and Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief, of it, and that he makes statements at those events on Croatia's behalf without his consent.

"The positions expressed that way, without prior agreement, can only be the positions of your government, naturally, if you give your consent for them, but they are not Croatia's positions because I, as President of the Republic and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, do not give my consent. Any obligation which your minister may undertake in that way and which concerns the constitutional powers of the President of the Republic and the Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief, is potentially unimplementable," Milanović warns, adding that such conduct on the minister's part can cause damage to the country's international reputation.

"Mr. Prime Minister, if your government continues with such conduct and your minister insists on the politicization of the Armed Forces, I will, if necessary, resort to Article 144(5) of the Croatian Constitution in the defence segment, for the purpose of protecting the interests of the Republic of Croatia," Milanović says in the letter.

Article 144(5) of the Constitution reads: The Republic of Croatia shall be represented in the Council and the European Council by the Government and the President of the Republic of Croatia in accordance with their respective constitutional powers.

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Monday, 25 October 2021

Empowerment of Women in Armed Forces Advocated

ZAGREB, 25 Oct 2021 - The final conference of the project "Enhancing the role and support to women in Armed Forces and in peacekeeping missions", which was held on Monday, called for better detection of discrimination against women in the military.

The aim of the project, co-funded by the U.S. administration, is to raise awareness of the status of women in the Croatian army and peace missions and about the importance of women's participation in decision-making.

Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Davor Božinović said that the government was committed to including a higher number of women in policymaking and to gender equality.

In 2019 and 2020, there were specific training courses at the Police Academy for 504 male and female police officers about topics concerning gender equality, he said.

Nearly 54% of higher-level office-holders in Croatia's interior ministry system are women

In the entire system of the Interior Ministry, women account for 30.96% of employees, and women make up 20% of police officers.

When it comes to higher-level office-holders in this system, women prevail at 54%.

A survey conducted among 366 respondents, of whom 67% were men, has shown that 21.59% said they had experienced some kind of discrimination. In those cases of discrimination, two-thirds of perpetrators were men.

When it comes to the armed forces, a mere 13% of the 14,836 active-duty officers are women, and this share is higher than in other NATO and EU member states.

The share of women employees in the ministry's offices and departments is 50.2%.

The share of female participants in Croatia's peace missions has been 5.83%

A survey conducted among 150 female staffers in the ministry shows that 60% of them have experienced some form of discrimination, and 30% say they have been discriminated against based on their sex.

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Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Joint Statement by A5 Members: Cooperation in Region to Strengthen Security

ZAGREB, 28 Sept, 2021 - The chiefs of staff of the member states of the US-Adriatic Charter (A5) signed a joint statement at a conference near Split on Tuesday in which they advocate strengthening cooperation between countries in Southeast Europe for the sake of common security.

The statement was also signed by U.S. European Command (EUCOM) Deputy Commander Lieutenant General Michael L. Howard.

The conference, held in Podstrana outside Split, was organised by Croatia's Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Admiral Robert Hranj.

Apart from Croatian participants, also participating in the conference were the chiefs of staff of the US-Adriatic Charter countries Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and the United States, representatives of the observer countries Kosovo and Slovenia, and the commanders of the national guards of the partner US federal states, the Defence Ministry said in a press release.

"Since its establishment, the Charter has confirmed to be an important mechanism to strengthen regional cooperation and to assist countries in Southeast Europe on their journey to Euro-Atlantic, political, economic, security and defence institutions," the statement notes.

The A5 Charter is a regional security-defence initiative that was established in 2003 in an effort to assist member countries in accessing Euro-Atlantic associations.

"The point of the joint statement is that the US-Adriatic Charter is directed towards cooperation between countries in the region and our joint priority is to be secure," Admiral Hranj said.

"It is important that the United States is helping us through various mechanisms and one of those is cooperation with EUCOM," underscored Hranj, adding that that includes cooperation with the National Guard given that each of the A5 members has a partner in one of the US National Guards.

Croatia is the current chair of the US-Adriatic Charter and next year Montenegro will take over presidency of the initiative.

Montenegro's representatives informed us of their plans regarding US-Adriatic Charter presidency and I believe that Montenegro will successfully conduct its chairmanship, said Hranj.

Two large military exercises are planned for 2023 and the idea is to have all A5 member states participate with the assistance of U.S. forces, concluded Hranj.

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Saturday, 18 September 2021

30th Anniversary of Battle of Vukovar Marked

ZAGREB, 18 Sept, 2021 - The Battle of Vukovar was a turning point in the war for Croatia's freedom and independence, and its participants were heroes who deserve admiration, it was said at an event marking the 30th anniversary of the battle in Vukovar on Saturday. 

Vukovar was heroically defended in the 1991 battle for three months, after which its defence lines were penetrated and the city fell into the hands of Serb paramilitaries and the Yugoslav People's Army.

The ceremony in Vukovar was attended by numerous defenders and wartime commanders, led by the last commander of the city's defence forces, Branko Borković, President Zoran Milanović and Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković's envoys, the heads of Vukovar-Srijem and Osijek-Baranja counties, Vukovar Mayor Ivan Penava, and government members, led by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković.

"More than 30,000 troops, armed with 600 tanks, 500 armoured vehicles and 180 howitzers were deployed to seize Vukovar which was defended by some 6,000 defenders and volunteers. In that 'David and Goliath' battle, by keeping the enemy engaged in the area of Vukovar, Croatian defenders gave an additional three months to the rest of Croatia to consolidate its armed forces," Plenković said at the commemoration.

Battle was of crucial importance for maturing of Croatian democracy

Thanking defenders for what they did in 1991 by defending Vukovar and Croatia, Plenković said the Battle of Vukovar was a decisive battle of the Homeland War that also had a crucial role in the maturing of the Croatian democracy.

"Even though the suffering in the Homeland War is still a painful memory, notably the fate of 1,858 people gone missing, the victorious Croatia extended a hand of reconciliation and trust, respecting the rights of ethnic minorities, including the Serb minority. Croatia remains committed to the values which helped defend Croatia's freedom and democracy in the Homeland War," said Plenković, underlining the need to continue with efforts to shed light on the fate of all missing persons, punish war criminals, secure adequate satisfaction for former inmates of prison camps, and promote the truth about the Homeland War, notably among children and young people.

Speaking of the government's responsibility for the revitalisation of Vukovar and the entire eastern Slavonia, Plenković said that Vukovar had been named a place of special respect, the Vukovar Hospital had become a national memorial hospital, 18 November, the day of the city's fall, had been declared a national holiday, and the Croatian Army had returned to Vukovar while the prospect of bringing to justice those responsible for war crimes had improved.

Borković: Croatia not owing anyone anything, on everyone's conscience 

The last commander of Vukovar's defence forces and commander of the 204th Vukovar Brigade, Branko Borković, said that Croatia today was a member of NATO and the European Union and that "it does not owe anything to anyone and is on everyone's conscience."

He said that Croatia is not an accidental state, is not "a successor either to the Ustasha or to Partisans" and was not created in World War II.

Borković noted that in recent years many political and social organisations as well as various office-holders at local and national levels and public figures had knowingly or unknowingly acted below the high standards set by Vukovar's struggle and sacrifice.

As part of today's commemoration, held outside the city's Eltz Castle, Croatian Air Force jets and its Wings of Storm aerobatic team flew over the event. Earlier in the day, state and other delegations laid wreaths and lit candles at the Homeland War Memorial Cemetery.

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Tuesday, 24 August 2021

30th Anniversary of Military Police Marked

ZAGREB, 24 Aug, 2021 - The 30th anniversary of the establishment of the first Croatian military police unit was commemorated in Odra near Sisak on Tuesday.

A memorial plaque was unveiled on that occasion at the Odra Community Centre by the head of the Croatian Armed Forces Military Police Directorate, Lieutenant General Mate Laušić, and Brigadier Ivica Kranjčević, an envoy for President and Armed Forces Commander in Chief Zoran Milanović.

Addressing the event, Laušić recalled that military police had a special role in the 1991-95 war and that their work had been characterised by professionalism, education and resolve.

Kranjčević said that the first military police unit comprised a small group of honourable men with a strong feeling of patriotism, great resolve and professionalism, who knew how to act appropriately at any time during the Homeland War.

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