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Army chief falls but defence minister to stay

Schmid (left) and Nef were heard by parliamentary committees Keystone

The head of Switzerland's armed forces, Roland Nef, has tendered his resignation following allegations of sexual harassment and questions over his integrity.

This content was published on July 25, 2008 - 17:42

A statement released by Nef's lawyers came as the chief commander and Defence Minister Samuel Schmid took part in a hearing by the two parliamentary security committees on Friday.

The main political parties welcomed Nef's offer but some of them continue to put pressure on Defence Minister Schmid to step down.

The security committee of the House of Representatives called for an examination of the defence ministry and the selection procedure of top army candidates.

However, both the Senate and the House committees stopped short of calling for Schmid's resignation.

For his part, Schmid called Nef's resignation regrettable. He thanked the army chief, who has been in his job for less than seven months, for his service.

Cabinet is to meet in August to discuss the financial details related to the termination of Nef's employment.

While Nef has not commented on the sexual harassment case and previously insisted on privacy, he said on Friday that the allegations hanging over him had made his job as head of the armed forces effectively impossible.

The 48-year-old was suspended as the commander of Switzerland's armed forces at earlier this week on after being served an ultimatum by the defence minister.

Speaking then, Schmid said the army chief had "convincingly" refuted allegations of impropriety, but nevertheless gave Nef 30 days to prove his integrity or be fired.

Charges of coercion

Details of the allegations against Nef, which included charges of coercion, as well as a payment to a former girlfriend as part of an out of court settlement, had been leaked to the media earlier in July.

Nef said he regretted that Schmid, his political champion one year ago, had been dragged into the scandal. The Swiss press has been vocal in its criticism of the embattled defence minister.

Nef's deputy, André Blattmann, will continue to lead the army on an interim basis according to a defence ministry statement.

The resignation comes one month after the resignation of former air force commander Walter Knutti over questions of bad judgement and incompetence following an accident that killed six soldiers.

Nef took a hard line against his subordinate at the time.

A former artillery commander, Nef was appointed by the cabinet in June 2007 to succeed army chief Christophe Keckeis.

Reaction

Three of the country's four main political parties on Friday said Nef's resignation was the right thing to do.

The centre-left Social Democratic Party and the centre-right Christian Democratic Party described Nef's resignation as a logical consequence.

The Social Democrats also urged the new military chief to continue the army reforms.

The centre-right Radical Party encouraged the cabinet to be careful in selecting a new army head.

However, critics on both the left and the right are demanding more, and have called for Defence Minister Schmid's head.

The rightwing Swiss People's Party said Schmid, who split from the party, bears responsibility for the crisis.

The Greens said they were satisfied with Nef's resignation, but argued Schmid is no longer the right man for the job.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The cabinet elected 48-year old Roland Nef as head of the armed forces in June 2007.

He succeeded Christophe Keckeis who retired at the end of last year.

Before Nef tended his resignation he had agreed to a temporary suspension from the post pending an examination over the next 30 days.

André Blattmann has taken over from Nef ad interim.

There are more than 50 senior officers eligible to take over from Nef, including corps, division and brigade commanders.

The highest-ranking woman in the Swiss army is a colonel.

The head of the armed forces is responsible for the development and leadership of the land and air forces.

The 220,000-strong armed forces, including reserves, function on a militia principle - not as a fully professional army.

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Case Nef

Allegations of sexual harassment by Nef were leaked to the press earlier in July.

He admitted a criminal investigation had been underway against him for coercion of a former girlfriend while he was a candidate for the post of chief of the armed forces.

The case was settled out of court last autumn and Nef agreed to pay an undisclosed sum of money to the victim.

Nef also said he had not always acted judiciously at the end of his love affair, but refused to give further details.

He is suing a publishing house for alleged violation of personal rights. A complaint has also been filed over suspected breach of official secrecy rules.

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