Belgian UN troops admit to ‘roasting’ Somali boy
By Robert Fox and AFP
TWO Belgian paratroopers who were photographed “roasting” a Somali
boy over a flaming brazier are expected to be jailed for only a
month and fined £200 after admitting the atrocity in a military
court in Brussels yesterday.
Privates Claude Baert and Kurt Coelus faced a maximum of a year in
jail but the prosecutor demanded only a month. Sentence will be
passed on Monday. The case against a third soldier accused of
atrocities during the United Nations “Restore Hope” mission three
years ago was adjourned until September.
Sgt Dirk Nassel is accused of forcing a young Somali to eat pork,
drink salt water, and then eat his vomit. The three soldiers
were charged with assault and threatening behaviour.
A fourth member of the 3rd battalion of the Parachute Regiment,
based at Tielen in Flanders, is also due to go on trial in
September. Sergeant Major Rudy Derkinderen is suspected of
having murdered a Somali whom he was photographed urinating on.
The circumstances surrounding the death of another child at
the paratroopers’ base near Kismayo in southern Somalia are also
under investigation. According to the testimony of two
former paratroopers, the boy, who had been caught trying to
steal food, died after being locked in a container for 48 hours.
The Defence Minister, Jean-Pol Poncelet, has promised that any
of the paratroopers found guilty of criminal acts in Somalia
will be dishonourably discharged. Baert has already left the
army but Coelus is now in the navy and Nassel has remained at Tielen.
Mr Poncelet has also ordered an inquiry to establish whether
the incidents were part of a broader pattern of abuse of the
local population. If it is, he has promised to disband the
Fifteen members of the regiment were investigated in 1995 for
“acts of sadism and torture” against Somalian civilians.
One paratrooper has been sentenced to five years, following the
murder of a Somalian youth, who allegedly had uncovered illegal
arms trading by the paratroopers. Belgium is the third country
involved in the “Restore Hope” mission to charge its soldiers
for serious misdemeanours against Somalian civilians, including
rape, torture and murder. In 1995 a group of Canadian paratroopers
were investigated for torturing a Somali to death and killing
The charges of indiscipline, racism, and the rituals for new members
of the unit led to the Canadian Airborne Regiment being disbanded
last year. Earlier this month gruesome photographs were published
in a Milan magazine of Italian soldiers torturing a young Somali
youth, and abusing and raping a young Somali girl. Two Italian
generals involved in “Restore Hope” have subsequently resigned
to clear the way for a major investigation of the unit involved,
the Folgore (Lightning) Division currently deployed on peacekeeping
duties in Albania.
The Italian parliament has set up a major investigation and boards
of inquiry of the Italian army are at work. Paratroopers of the
Folgore claim that they were specifically trained in methods of
torture to aid interrogation. According to one witness Italian
soldiers tied a young Somali girl to the front of an armoured
carrier and raped her while officers looked on.
The witness told investigators: “When the officers wanted to have
fun, everybody went along with it.”
Over the weekend an interpreter with the Italian force in
Somalia accused a Folgore battalion commander of sexually abusing
a 13-year-old Somali youth. The “Restore Hope” mission has become
the most controversial of all recent peacekeeping operations
undertaken under the UN banner. It was mandated in 1992 to
provide medical aid and food after civil order in Somalia
collapsedfollowing the overthrow of the Marxist dictator
Maj Gen Muhammad Siad Barré, after a 17-year civil war.
The operation was directed by an American admiral, and spearheaded
by American Marines. After the murder of 20 Pakistani soldiers in
an ambush and the killing and dragging of two American Marines
through the streets of Mogadishu, the American command moved
from peacekeeping to offensive operations against the warlords
running the main Somali cities, principally Mogadishu and Kismayo.
Though they used helicopter gunships and area bombardment, the
Americans failed to defeat the leading warlord, Gen Muhammad
Farrah Aidid, and eventually the UN forces were ordered to withdraw.
A common thread through the accusations against the Belgian, Italian
and Canadian forces, is the racism ofelite units, particularly
airborne units, and their inability to adapt to low-intensity
Last week an Italian paratrooper said: “What’s the big deal?
They are just niggers anyway.”
The head of the UN’s peacekeeping department, Under Secretary
General Bernard Miyet, said: “The image of the United Nations
has been tarnished.”
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