Elite units find ammunition dumps practically unguarded

Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik

Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik, who has introduced a number of reforms to the Czech armed forces over the last year, is not a happy man this week. A recent operation - ordered by the minister himself - revealed considerable shortcomings in procedures at Czech Army bases. Now, Mr Tvrdik says, heads will roll. Dita Asiedu has the story:

Following the disappearance of tens of grenades from two Czech Army stores, Defence Minister Tvrdik ordered elite command units to attempt to get into ammunition dumps around the country to test how well guarded they were. The result of the month-long secret operation was shocking. Security around the Army's munitions is riddled with holes. Those who are supposed to be guarding munitions do not go on their regular rounds and the dogs that are supposed to assist them are often just tied to fences. Guards as well as security technology failed as the presence of the units was never detected. This, despite the fact that the defence minister ordered for security around the Army's munitions to be tightened after the September 11th attacks on the United States last year.

Mr Tvrdik is therefore convinced that those responsible are failing to carry out orders effectively. His disappointment and anger is strong in an article in Wednesday's daily Pravo where he tells the paper that his subordinates repeatedly assure him that orders have been carried out and yet things continue to go missing. He adds that it is imperative to make changes in the command structure. "If the current commanding officers - of any rank - are unable to ensure that orders are carried out, I will work with others who are", he tells Pravo, adding that he would have resigned long ago if he were not sure that he does everything in his power to improve the state of the Army. Kamil Houska is the author of Pravo's article:

"Minister Tvrdik read the report on Saturday and when we spoke to him on Tuesday he did not disguise his annoyance because he thinks it's a very serious risk for the Czech Republic. He intends to make personnel changes at various degrees of command because he found out that not everybody obeyed his orders. He was being reassured that things were changing for the better only to find out that they were not."

The sad state of affairs around Army stores has also been a topic of discussion between the defence minister and Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, both of whom are very well aware of the security risks posed on the Czech Republic.

"On the orders of the minister all ammunition dumps in the Czech Republic have been checked, although each one in a different way. The units entered some, whilst they only monitored others. That concerns Army stores for all types of ammunition including cartridges, shells, mines and firearms. Safety experts have pointed out that security around the stores is in poor condition due to failing technology. They have called for an increase in personnel but now the minister found out that the security personnel isn't doing what it should be either."

In 2001, alone, the Czech police have investigated some 3500 thousand cases of theft of military material. This includes weapons and ammunition. According to Mr Tvrdik, it is time for serious change as the Czech Army is supposed to defend its country and not bring it into danger by allowing for its technology and supplies to get onto the black market.