July 04, 1997

German govt blasts soldiers for mock rapes

By Erik Kirschbaum

BONN, Germany (Reuter) - Defense Minister Volker Ruehe Friday condemned the ``unbelievable behavior'' of a group of German soldiers who staged mock executions and rapes of civilians while training for a mission in former Yugoslavia.

Some 3,000 German soldiers now help enforce peace in Bosnia, but it was not known whether any of those shown in a videotape pretending to molest and kill fellow soldiers, posing as civilians, who are now part of the Balkans contingent.

Ruehe said there was no excuse for the macabre imitations of rape and execution. Satellite television station SAT-1 planned to broadcast parts of the videotape this weekend.

The video, which the Defense Ministry pronounced authentic, shows German recruits at the Hammelburg training facility near Wuerzburg pretending to rape and execute a group of recruits who had moments earlier been acting as a group of civilians.

The Defense Ministry said the incident occurred during a break in the training. The video was made in the spring of 1996, but it only surfaced Friday.

A spokesman for SAT-1 in Berlin said the network planned to air the tape Monday evening but was considering broadcasting the material in its news programs at the weekend.

A spokesman for the Defense Ministry said he did not believe that any of the soldiers depicted in the video were part of Germany's peacekeeping mission to Bosnia but that the ministry could not yet rule this out.

Some 3,000 Germans are in the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia. Around 4,000 Germans took part in SFOR's predecessor, the peace Implementation Force (IFOR) but were stationed in nearby Croatia.

He said the state prosecutor's office had not yet been contacted.

Ruehe, who has worked hard to help Germany drop its post-World War II taboo on sending soldiers abroad on peacekeeping missions and rehabilitate the international image of the German military in general, said the video was a perverse aberration.

``It is essential and important that our soldiers are realistically prepared before the start of their mission for the situation in a country hit by a civil war,'' Ruehe said.

He added, ``It will not be tolerated that soldiers posing as civilians during their training allow their fantasies to get out of control during breaks in their training and to pervert the purpose of the training in a drastic and unacceptable way.''