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Soldiers patrolling streets ‘not good news for democracy’

“The blurring of roles between the AFM and police is not healthy in a democracy. We already have too much power or instruments that can yield power under one Minister”

AFM Malta
Photo: AFM Facebook / Silvio Xerri

The army should not be deployed daily in support of the police and there is no justification for their deployment to patrol the streets in Malta, lawyers and sources close to the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) told The Shift.

They were reacting to the announcement by Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia yesterday that the army will be helping the police patrol “criminal hotspots and problem areas”.

Lawyers who spoke to The Shift have confirmed that the law does permit soldiers to be deployed to patrol the streets, but only in exceptional circumstances – in times of upheaval, turmoil and insurrections.

The reason Minister Michael Farrugia gave for the deployment of soldiers to patrol the streets in Malta starting next year, was to “boost law enforcement”.

“There is no justification to deploy the Armed Forces of Malta to support daily police duties,” sources close to the army said.

“Whilst I see no issue in the AFM supporting the police during special operations or circumstances such as the recent arrests or hijack, the blurring of roles between the AFM and police is not healthy in a democracy. We already have too much power or instruments that can yield power under one Minister,” another source said on condition of anonymity.

In most modern democracies, the police deal with internal security while the army deals with external threats. Only when there is a direct and real threat to the State that the army is deployed daily to safeguard internal security. And this happens in cases of terrorist action.

Green army trucks can be seen on the cobbled streets of Brussels, and troops in Italy were deployed to guard the Colossuem. Soldiers can also be seen patrolling the Champs-Elysees in Paris. Britain made such deployments an option this year, but it has done so sparingly.

In each case, they were decisions made to protect citizens against attacks in a new era of terrorism strategies, which has seen European capitals witness deadly attacks. And still leaders faced criticism, because the presence of soldiers on streets in a democracy is unsettling. Marsa is hardly Kabul.

“What is needed is not to deploy soldiers on our streets. What we need is a professional and focused police force that is ably led. That is not afraid to take on and investigate organised crime,” sources said.

They argued that robust and focused action was required, “not PR exercises that lead to nowhere”.

Most of the areas chosen are known to host large immigrant communities – Marsa, Birzebbuga and St Paul’s Bay. Farrugia in fact emphasised the need for greater education and integration measures targeting migrants.

Paceville was also on the list, so tourists heading there for a fun night out will get a taste of Beirut as they are welcomed by soldiers.

Antonio Di Pietro

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