Sun, Oct 29, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Two German soldiers relieved over photo scandal

AFP , BERLIN

The German defense force on Friday relieved two soldiers of their duties in a growing scandal over pictures of troops playing with human skulls in Afghanistan.

Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung told reporters more suspensions would follow over incriminating photos taken in 2003 and 2004 of German peacekeepers serving in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The scandal broke on Wednesday when the Bild newspaper ran pictures of a Bundeswehr soldier mounting a skull on an ISAF patrol vehicle and another of him holding it next to his penis.

On Thursday, a television channel aired similar images, which it said were taken in Afghanistan in March 2004, a year later than those published in Bild.

The defense ministry on Friday said it was braced for "a third wave of photographs" after Bild said it had received "dozens more" macabre pictures and would publish some yesterday.

In one of the pictures a soldier is reportedly shown pointing his gun at a skull.

The affair has so far embroiled two German army units -- a mountain infantry battalion normally based in the Bavarian Alps and an armored division from Bad Seegeberg in northern Germany.

Prosecutors said they were investigating the two suspended soldiers and seven others on charges of disturbing the dead, a crime which carries a prison sentence of up to three years in Germany.

According to Jung, most of the suspects have completed their tour of duty and left the army.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the affair as "shocking and disgusting," and the Afghan government also expressed dismay on Friday.

Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen said the men's conduct "goes against Islamic values and Afghan traditions" and has "deeply saddened" the authorities in Kabul.

German defense ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe said Germany feared its soldiers and nationals could be targeted by insurgents because of the images.

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