Belgian politicians divided on how to handle drug violence in Antwerp

On Monday, an 11-year-old girl was killed in Merksem after the family's home was shot at. The shooting is assumed to be another case of drug violence in Flanders. Several politicians, including Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever and MR party chairman Georges-Louis Bouchez, are calling for the army to be deployed if necessary. 

But Belgian MP and defence specialist Jasper Pillen called deploying the army in Antwerp to curb the drug problem a bad idea. "Soldiers are not trained for deployment on public roads and are not mandated to do so, which means they cannot, for example, ask passers-by to show their identity card or open their rucksacks." 

Moreover, the army has had bad experiences with Operation Vigilant Guardian: soldiers were deployed on Belgian streets for six years in response to the 2015 terrorist attacks in France. "It prevents them from training for the missions they do have, and it is bad for motivation," Pillen said. He added that the army cannot afford that, in the context of NATO and the Russian aggression in Ukraine. 

Defence minister Ludivine Dedonder also rejects the idea of deploying soldiers in the streets of Antwerp. "The army does not have the same capabilities as the police and cannot carry out acts of investigation," she argued. "We are not in a national security crisis with an acute and concrete threat where the deployment of the army to strengthen the police is justified."

Federal Interior minister Annelies Verlinden confirmed that she is not in favour of deploying the army on Wednesday, after a meeting with De Wever and Belgian Justice minister Van Quickenborne on Wednesday. Local police are best suited for guard duties because they know the terrain, she said. 


Soldiers at guard near Antwerp Centraal railway station in 2015. © BELGA PHOTO LUC CLAESSEN

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