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Defence minister chooses Opata for new chief-of-staff

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Prague, March 1 (CTK) – Ales Opata will be the new Czech chief-of-staff as of May 1, Defence Minister Karla Slechtova (for ANO) announced on Thursday, adding that she will propose the dismissal of the current Chief-of-Staff, General Josef Becvar as of April 30 to the cabinet meeting next Thursday.

The first task for the new chief-of-staff will be a restructuring of the Czech military command, Slechtova said.

She also wants to discuss the military armament with Opata in his new post.

“I am going to discuss big acquisitions with him that the military will need,” Slechtova said.

Lieutenant General Opata, 53, has been a deputy chief-of-staff so far.

Slechtova said she expects him to ensure it that the military be united in formulating its demands for new equipment.

“The military staff must behave like a team, it must not be split with generals disputing with each other,” Slechtova said.

“I find it unacceptable if a general tells something to me and another general says something absolutely different one week later,” she said.

Slechtova said she told President Milos Zeman about her intention to have Becvar replaced with Opata at their meeting on Wednesday and that Zeman was satisfied with her choice.

She also consulted Andrej Babis, ANO leader and head of the ANO minority cabinet that lost a confidence vote in parliament in January and continues ruling pending the establishment of a new government by the election-winning ANO.

Slechtova also debated the personnel step with experts and the military. She said Opata enjoys high respect among soldiers, which was important for her decision-making.

Opata’s participation as a commander in Czech military missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan were also an argument in support of his nomination, she said.

After the cabinet debates the planned personnel change next Thursday, Slechtova will submit it to the lower house’s defence committee.

“It is my duty to submit it, but it does not obligatorily require [the committee’s] approval,” she said.

The tenure of Becvar, 59, expired last summer, when then defence minister Martin Stropnicky (ANO) extended his mandate.

Slechtova said she has turned down Becvar’s request for further extension of his mandate also because he has reached the retirement age.

“Another prolongation of his tenure would not be good as a signal to the soldiers either,” she said.

Becvar previously asked for his mandate to be extended until the end of the year.

He would not comment on the situation on Thursday.

He is to meet Zeman in the foreseeable future. The General Staff is yet to specify the meeting’s date.

Opata would not comment on his promotion either. He has been on a medical rehabilitation stay this week, the General Staff said.

Slechtova said she expects Opata’s arrival to be followed by the arrival of younger generations in the military command.

“We want to change the whole command and management, it will really be an enormous step,” she said, adding that the changes coincide with the military’s planned restructuring according to NATO standards, which should be completed in 2019.

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