The head of the armed forces, Roland Nef, has been suspended from his post amid new revelations about allegations of sexual harassment.This content was published on July 21, 2008 - 18:55
It is the latest step in an ongoing controversy over the appointment of Nef as chief commander a year ago and the role of Defence Minister Samuel Schmid.
"I asked the chief commander to put an end to the assumptions, rumours and allegations. He has until August 20 to confirm the confidence put in him," Schmid said in a statement read out to the media.
Schmid added he would ask the cabinet to relieve Nef of his post as chief of the armed forces if he failed to give unequivocal proof of his personal integrity to the government, parliament and the public.
Nef's deputy, André Blattmann, has taken over as army chief on an interim basis.
According to newspaper reports, Nef was accused by a former girlfriend of sexual harassment. She allegedly filed a complaint accusing him of sending her address and photograph to a pornographic website.
"I confronted Roland Nef with these allegations. He has – convincingly in my opinion – rejected them."
The case of coercion – a legal term which includes stalking and harassment by email or telephone - was later closed. Nef agreed to pay an undisclosed sum of money to the victim as part of an out of court settlement with the public prosecutor.
Schmid on Monday called on the media to respect Nef's rights as an individual and repeated his support for him.
"Give truth a chance in these hectic times," Schmid said, adding that he himself had no intention to step down.
"Assurances I was given by colleagues in cabinet and many parliamentarians show me that I have not lost the political capability to act."
On Sunday President Pascal Couchepin said there was no reason to question Nef's professional ability as chief commander but it was necessary to consider his personal credibility.
However, the main political parties were not convinced by Schmid's statement.
The suspension of Nef is insufficient, according to the rightwing Swiss People's Party, the centre-right Christian Democrats, the Radicals and the Greens.
They have either called for Schmid's resignation or an urgent meeting of the cabinet.
For their part, the centre-left Social Democrats welcomed Schmid's declaration. They added that he had made many mistakes in the past and acted late.
The security committees of both houses of parliament have scheduled a joint meeting for Friday to discuss calls for the resignation of Schmid and Nef.
The defence minister conceded it was wrong not to tell the other cabinet ministers of a criminal investigation pending against Nef who was one of four candidates in the running for the post of army chief last year.
"With hindsight it was a mistake not to inform the cabinet and I regret this," said Schmid.
He said he had full confidence in Nef who had to pass an intensive evaluation procedure before he was named by the cabinet and took over the post at the beginning of the year.
Last week both of them insisted on the right to privacy for the head of the armed forces amid criticism that some media were running a defamation campaign.
Nef said he is suing the publishers of a leading tabloid newspaper for breaching his rights as an individual.
His lawyer also filed a legal complaint with the justice authorities for suspected breach of official secrecy rules following the publication of the criminal investigation into Nef.
swissinfo, Urs Geiser
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.
Nef 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.
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.
The allegations of sexual harassment were leaked to the press earlier this month.
Nef admitted a criminal investigation had been underway against him for coercion of a former girlfriend as 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 as damages.
Nef also said he had not always acted judiciously at the end of his love affair, but refused to give further details.
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