Lower house rejects government bonds for military campaigns

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A financial dispute pitting the Social Democrat government against parliament has raised questions about the Czech Republic's ability to finance its contribution to the U.S.-led "war on terrorism." The government is asking parliament to approve a 35 million-dollar funding package to pay for deploying a Czech army field hospital in Afghanistan and a chemical warfare unit in Kuwait, as requested by the United States and Britain. But earlier this week the lower house rejected the plan to finance the missions through the issuing of state-backed bonds. Rob Cameron has more.

Czech army - field hospital, photo CTK
For a NATO newcomer with a relatively small professional army, the Czech Republic has made a substantial contribution to U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East. The Czech Army has begun deploying its army field hospital in the Afghan capital Kabul, and is sending its elite anti-chemical unit to Kuwait City, officially to guard U.S. command headquarters in Kuwait, unofficially to respond to a possible biological attack should the U.S. launch a military campaign against Iraq.

The country has been praised for its willingness to commit its forces, British Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly thanked his Czech counterpart Milos Zeman on Monday during a visit to Prague. But one day later, the lower house of parliament rejected the government's proposal to finance the operations by issuing state-backed bonds, the opposition Civic Democrats saying the cabinet should find the money in the budget. Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik was deeply disappointed following the vote.

"It's an extremely unpleasant situation. The lower house has approved the issuing of bonds on several occasions, and I can only put the decision down to the pre-election atmosphere. But I'm convinced that common sense will win the day, and that we will find a solution."

Czech army - field hospital, photo CTK
Prime Minister Milos Zeman used less diplomatic language, calling opposition deputies "cowards". He said this year's state budget was already approved and could not be tapped for the extra military expenditure. The government will be keen to find a solution soon, otherwise all those efforts to prove the country is a committed NATO partner in the "war on terrorism" will have been in vain.