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Photos reveal Belgian paratroopers' abuse in Somalia

April 17, 1997
Web posted at: 4:58 p.m. EDT (2058 GMT)

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BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- Belgian military officials Thursday promised a thorough review of training exercises, following the publication of photos of alleged atrocities by elite paratroopers during the 1993 U.N. Somalia peace mission.

Photographs

Defense Minister Jean-Pol Poncelet said he was considering disbanding the elite Belgian paratrooper unit at the center of the scandal. The newest photos, published Wednesday in the daily newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, include one of a Belgian paratrooper urinating on the face of a dead Somali.

Photos released earlier show two paratroopers holding another Somali over an open fire, allegedly "roasting" him until he was severely burned. Two paratroopers were arrested last week and charged with assault and battery in the incident.

Paratroopers acquitted 2 years ago

Troops

Members of Belgium's elite paratrooper unit served in the United Nation's "Operation Restore Hope" mission in Somalia in 1993. Two years ago, 15 paratroopers were put on trial for other abuses during the U.N. mission, including torture, killings and the mock-execution of children. Most were acquitted.

But the photographs, which came to light in the last two weeks after two former paratroopers came forward anonymously, bolster accusations that Belgian soldiers tortured and killed civilians during the mission.

The Belgian military promised that anyone found guilty of human rights abuses will be punished.

Hertoghe

"First and for all, the Belgian army authorities never tolerate violations of humanitarian rights, martial law or penal laws. Those who are violating these rules are sent to military courts," said Col. Gilbert Hertoghe of Belgium.

Military auditor Gen. Jean-Yves Minne says many of the paratroopers have been located, including those who held a Somali child over a fire. "The persons which committed these crimes have also been interrogated by magistrates and one of them is placed under arrest. The second one is released pending trial," he said.

Belgium to follow Canada's lead?

Minne says the most serious action he's investigating involved an alleged Somali thief who was reportedly forced into a container and left in the hot sun until he died.

Canada has wrestled with similar cases of torture and killings stemming from the U.N. mission, and in the end, disbanded its elite airborne regiment, whose soldiers committed the worst abuses.

"Shouldn't we go as far as the Canadians and just disband the battalion?" Poncelet said in an interview with the Brussels daily De Morgen.

 
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