Burning of Taliban bodies 'not a crime'

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The US military yesterday said four soldiers would face disciplinary action over the burning of the bodies of two Taliban rebels in Afghanistan, though it denied they had committed a criminal act and said their main motive was hygiene.

Television footage, shown first in Australia of American soldiers using the cremation to taunt other Islamic militants caused Muslim outrage across Afghan-istan. Islam bans cremation and the footage of about five soldiers in military fatigues standing near the bonfire in which the bodies were burning drew comparisons in Afghanistan with the photographs of US troops abusing Iraqi prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib jail.

Major-General Jason Kamiya, commander of the US-led coalition, said the two officers who ordered the burning would be officially reprimanded but he insisted they were unaware of doing wrong. He also said they would be reprimanded for using loudspeakers to taunt Taliban rebels whom they believed were lingering in a nearby village.

"Our investigation found there was no intent to desecrate the remains, but only to dispose of them for hygienic reasons," General Kamiya said.

The footage, filmed by a cameraman-reporter embedded with the unit, threatens to undermine public support for the war against insurgents, four years after US-led forces toppled the repressive Taliban regime.

Yesterday, in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, a Swedish soldier died from injuries sustained on Friday from a roadside bomb that tore through his vehicle when a convoy was ambushed.