Monday, 29 November 2021

Banožić: Defence Ministry Won't Cover for Incompetence of President's Office

ZAGREB, 29 Nov 2021 - Defence Minister Mario Banožić on Monday responded to accusations from the president's office that soldiers were not receiving per diems, telling the head of the president's office and the president's defence advisor that the ministry "will not cover for their incompetence".

"Instead of holding unconvincing press conferences and shifting responsibility to others, the gentlemen from the Office of the President should be more responsible in spending their office's budget, so there would be no problems they had mentioned. While I am minister, the Ministry of Defence will not cover for their incompetence," Banožić wrote on Facebook.

The head of the president's office, Orsat Miljenić, and presidential defence adviser Dragan Lozančić said today that Banožić's abuse had spread to soldiers who supported the president because they had not received their per diems.

Miljenić said Banožić decided a month ago not to pay per diems to soldiers who supported President Zoran Milanović in any way, specifically soldiers who recently were lined up in Vukovar and carried wreaths in Škabrnja.

Miljenić said the military chief-of-staff warned the president's office about dozens of such cases in the past month. He added that Prime Minister Andrej Plenković was notified but has taken no action.

Miljenić said this situation was unacceptable and hoped that Banožić would rescind his "unconstitutional and unlawful decision" and resume paying people what they had earned.

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Monday, 29 November 2021

President's Office: Defence Minister's Abuse Has Spread to Soldiers

ZAGREB, 29 Nov 2021 - The head of the president's office, Orsat Miljenić, and presidential adviser Dragan Lozančić said on Monday that Defence Minister Mario Banožić's abuse had spread to soldiers who supported the president because they had not received their per diems.

Speaking to the press in the president's office, Miljenić said soldiers were doing their job honorably and that Banožić's abuse had spread to them following the "unlawful and sudden" retiring of Colonel Elvis Burčul and the harassment of the Chief of the General Staff, Admiral Robert Hranj.

Miljenić said Banožić decided a month ago not to pay per diems to soldiers who supported President Zoran Milanović in any way, specifically soldiers who recently were lined up in Vukovar and carried wreaths in Škabrnja.

Miljenić said the president's office had to react because Hranj warned them about dozens of such cases in the past month. He added that Prime Minister Andrej Plenković was notified but has taken no action.

Miljenić said this situation was unacceptable and hoped that Banožić would rescind his "unconstitutional and unlawful decision" and resume paying people what they had earned.

The president's defence and national security adviser Lozančić said the people in question were active soldiers who were executing their tasks in line with annual plans.

He said that in a letter to the defence minister, Chief-Of-Staff Hranj told Banožić that he saw his decision in part as a continuation of his conduct so far, which Hranj said had all the elements of a strategic abuse of him as a person and a soldier which began when Banožić asked that Hranj resign, and continued in public criticisms and Defence Ministry press releases.

Under the decision in question, Armed Forces personnel are not allowed to support the president's office nor use Defence Ministry money. Also, the costs incurred while extending such support will not be paid.

In his letter, Hranj told Banožić that his decision obstructs and hampers the functioning of the Armed Forces in general, and in particular the Honorary and Protection Battalion, whose fundamental job is to support and protect the president.

Responding to questions from the press, Lozančić said that unless the minister changed his decision, the president had two choices, either not to execute his duty as commander in chief and represent the army at certain events or do so.

Miljenić said all people in possession of a valid command and travel order would get their money, and that he hoped there would be no lawsuits, but added that this was up to the minister.

He said the president was elected to also represent the army at home and abroad, which the minister "neither can nor has the right to restrict."

Miljenić said the president would continue to go where he had to and that under the constitution and the law, the minister was not authorized to withhold per diems for soldiers accompanying the president.

He added that it was Hranj who gave the commands based on which travel orders were issued, and noted that the commander in chief represents the Armed Forces and that they support him in doing so, in which the minister of defence has no say.

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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.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

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.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

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.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Monday, 1 November 2021

Defence Ministry Says It Prevented Int'l Scandal Involving Battalion in March

ZAGREB, 1 Nov 2021 - The Defence Ministry said on Monday that in March it prevented an international scandal involving the participation of the Honorary and Protection Battalion in a commemoration in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The ministry said in a press release that on 17 March President Zoran Milanović's office informed the military Chief-Of-Staff, Admiral Robert Hranj, that the president's advisor Marijan Mareković would be his envoy at an event marking the 27th anniversary of the exchange of prisoners of war in Bugojno, BiH.

The president's office also made it known that, under the president's decision, members of the Honorary and Protection Battalion would also attend the event, the ministry added.

Under the Defence Act, a decision on platoons and smaller units attending ceremonial activities abroad is made by the defence minister, the ministry said, adding that according to its information, members of the Honorary and Protection Battalion were sent to BiH before the minister made a decision to that effect.

However, the ministry said, it was realized that they would not be able to cross the Croatian border without the minister's decision and an order for official travel abroad, which is within the ministry's remit. 

By such course of action, the president's office "unnecessarily exposed the Croatian Army," the ministry added.

Upon the realization that the request from the president's office could not be carried out without the minister's decision, the ministry said, Hranj wrote to the minister on 18 March to ask that the request from the head of the president's office, to engage members of the Honorary and Protection Battalion abroad, be authorized.

In line with his powers, the ministry said, the minister gave his authorization the same day for the battalion to accompany Mareković to the commemoration in BiH.

The ministry said the battalion's participation in the commemoration was not contentious, but the president's office should have respected the procedure as envisaged by the Defence Act.

"The Ministry of Defence, by adopting the decision, prevented an international scandal," the press release said, adding that the course of action by the president's office was inappropriate and that it should have forwarded the request to the minister.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Saturday, 2 October 2021

Innovative Croatian Robotic System Komodo Premiered at ASDA

ZAGREB, 2 Oct, 2021 - The innovative remote-controlled robotic system Komodo, which works in extreme nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological conditions, was premiered at the 2021 Adriatic Sea Defense & Aerospace Exhibition and Conference (ASDA) in Split from 29 September to 1 October.

The Komodo is a product of Croatian intelligence and we are ready to make about 60 units a year, Gordan Pešić, business development manager at DOK-ING, the company which manufactured the robotic system, told Hina on Saturday, adding that the Komodo attracted the attention of domestic and foreign military experts at ASDA.

He said the Komodo was designed to assist in various natural and technical disasters and threats, including terrorism, by removing all obstacles which hindered rescuers in their actions.

The Komodo can also remove unexploded explosive devises and decontaminate buildings as well as personnel, he added.

This product has been chosen as a partner in the European Defence Agency's Permanent Structured Cooperation initiative, Pešić said.

The manufacture of this unique remote-controlled robotic system cost HRK 18 million and was co-financed by the European Structural and Investment Fund, he added.

Pešić said DOK-ING, which makes special demining vehicles, cooperated with the Defence Ministry, including in absorbing money from the European Defence Fund.

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Thursday, 2 September 2021

Croatian Defence Minister Attends EU Ministerial Meeting on Afghanistan

ZAGREB, 2 Sept 2021 - Croatian Defence Minister Mario Banožić on Thursday took part in an informal meeting of EU defence ministers in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, which focused on the situation in Afghanistan, the Croatian ministry said.

Banožić said at the meeting that lessons learned in Afghanistan should be applied in the common security and defence policy so as not to repeat the same mistakes.

"In cooperation with our partners, we must focus on the prevention of a humanitarian disaster in the form of uncontrolled migrations and make sure Afghanistan does not become a haven for terrorist organizations," he said.

As for the EU's operational engagement, Banožić said that support to partners in the Sahel, Libya, and the EU's immediate neighborhood was unquestionable but that at the same time one should make it clear that the partners were expected to implement the necessary political and security reforms.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Thursday, 19 August 2021

Less Wildfires in First 8 Months Than 5-Year Average, But Intensifying Lately

ZAGREB, 19 Aug, 2021 - Chief firefighting commander Slavko Tucaković informed the government on Thursday that in the first eight months of 2021, 2,389 fires had occurred in areas of combustible vegetation, or 8% less than the five-year average, however in the last eight weeks, the number of wildfires has risen by 25%.

The area covered by blazes in the first eight months has been 12,207 hectares, or 54% less than the five-year average.

However, extreme weather conditions have fuelled wildfires in the last eight weeks, and as a result the area consumed by those fires has increased by 385%.

The highest number of blazes in rural areas has been registered in Šibenik-Knin County, seven to date.

The biggest wildfire this years has been in the Split hinterland, when it burnt an area 1,643 hectares large near the village of Seget Gornji.

Lion's share of wildfires put out within four hours

Tucaković said that as many as 87% of wildfires in the Croatian coastal area had been extinguished within four hours, which could be interpreted as evidence of the good engagement of firefighting services.

Interior Minister Davor Božinović said that firefighters' interventions in the coastal and Karst regions lasted 2.23 hours on average this year, while in 2020 this average was 3.37 hours.

Croatia's firefighting planes have been deployed abroad to put out fires six times so far this year: once in Greece and once in Turkey and four times in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The allocated funds in the state budget for firefighting services stand at HRK 104 million (€14 million) and so far this year 62 million kuna (€8.3 million) has been disbursed, Defence Minister Mario Banožić said. 

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Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Defense Minister Mario Banožić: Problem of Substance Abuse Among Military Personnel Under Scrutiny

ZAGREB, 28 July, 2021 - Defence Minister Mario Božinović said on Wednesday the Croatian Armed Forces had zero tolerance for drug abuse, and in the context of the latest drug abuse cases, the minister announced stricter control and disciplinary measures aimed at reducing drug abuse to a minimum and protecting the reputation of the Croatian Armed Forces.

Speaking to the press ahead of an inner cabinet meeting, Banožić said that in accordance with the Drug Abuse Prevention Act, the military police were implementing emergency control measures.

He confirmed that along with the four soldiers who had tested positive for drugs in early July, another three soldiers tested positive for illegal substances last Friday while one more soldier tried to avoid testing.

A total of 30 soldiers in barracks in Split, Ploče, Udbina, Delnice, Vinkovci and  Velika Gorica have been tested so far and drug testing will continue.

The minister expects everyone in the Armed Forces to make joint efforts to prevent drug abuse, announcing a set of measures to deal with this problem.

Banožić said the military police were still investigating recent suicide cases in the Armed Forces and that the public would be notified of the results of the investigation in due course.

The minister also announced increased counselling for members of the Armed Forces.

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