Polish opposition slam defence minister's handling of missile incident

FILE PHOTO: NATO defence ministers' meeting in Brussels

WARSAW (Reuters) -Poland's main opposition party said on Friday the defence minister should face criminal charges for dereliction of duty, after the latter accused the army of failing to inform the government about a possible missile heading towards the country in December.

With war raging in neighbouring Ukraine and after the deaths last November of two Poles hit by what Warsaw concluded was a misfired Ukrainian air defence missile, national security is a key issue in Poland ahead of elections later this year.

The ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party has made strengthening the armed forces a key plank of its election campaign, pledging to double the size of the army and spend 4% of GDP on defence in 2023.

Local media recently reported that a military object found in a forest in northern Poland in April was a Russian KH-55 missile.

Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Thursday an inspection he requested after the object was found showed that Armed Forces Operational Command had received information from Ukraine about a possible missile heading towards Poland but failed to take appropriate action.

Cezary Tomczyk of the opposition centrist Civic Coalition party told reporters Blaszczak was deflecting blame for the incident onto the army.

"Today we will submit a notification to the prosecutor's office about a possible crime committed by Minister Blaszczak in connection with failure to fulfil his duties," said Tomczyk, a member of the opposition centrist Civic Platform party.

Blaszczak, a high-ranking PiS member who has been tipped as a potential successor to leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, also said the inspection showed failures in how the search for the object was conducted. He said that personnel or disciplinary decisions would be made after consultation with President Andrzej Duda.

Poland's National Security Bureau said in a statement that on the basis of the information Duda currently had there was no justification for making changes in the military high command. It added Duda had still not received the conclusions of the inspection.

In a statement which did not refer directly to Blaszczak's comments, Operational Commander of the Armed Forces Branches Lieutenant General Tomasz Piotrowski called on Poles to remain united in the face of the threat from Russia.

(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Hugh Lawson)