Some NGOs complain of military presence on Belgian streets

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A group of Belgian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) announced their intention to file a complaint over the presence of military personnel on the streets of Brussels, Antwerp and Liege, Le Soir reported Tuesday.

According to the NGOs, the presence of soldiers on Belgian streets is "creating a climate of permanent fear and atmosphere deleterious social and increases the subjective feeling of insecurity."

The group includes the National Co-ordination for Peace and Democracy, the League of Human Rights, the Progress Lawyers Network and the Flemish peace organization, Verde vzw.

The associations believe that the presence of soldiers in the streets also raises fears of military interventions during times of social and political tension.

"In a democracy, the army has no place on the streets," they said in a joint statement.

The army has been present on Belgian streets as a makeshift security force since the uncovering of a major jihadist cell in Verviers in January, which saw Belgium's terror threat raised to three on a scale of four. Since then, the threat level has been lowered to two.

There are currently about 300 soldiers deployed on the streets guarding certain sensitive targets.

However, according to the NGOs, the soldiers remain an illegal presence on the streets, and cite article 43 of the 1998 law on the organization of an integrated police service, which according to them does not allow for military deployment in threat level two.

"According to the law, the military can only be used with an immediate threat. That threat level is determined by the OCAD [Co-ordinating Unit for Threat Analysis] and that threat level is four," Ludo De Brabander of Verde vzw told Radio 1 on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon dismissed the claims. Speaking on VRT radio, he defended the presence of the soldiers. "We are in an exceptional situation," he said, adding that he believed the military deployments are "fully covered legally." Endit

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