Inquiry begins into German troops who posed with skull

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The Independent Online

Six suspects are under investigation after photo-graphs of German soldiers posing with a human skull in Afghanistan were published by a newspaper.

Informing parliament about the inquiry, Germany's Defence Minister, Franz Josef Jung, repeated his vow that such behaviour had "no place" in the military and that training for foreign deployments would be reviewed. The Afghan government said it was "deeply saddened" by the macabre photos.

"Anyone who behaves like this has no place in the army," the minister told the Bundestag. "We will enforce all consequences, both criminal and disciplinary."

Mr Jung said he was relieved that investigators had been able to identify six suspects within 24 hours. Of the six, four are no longer in the military, he said. But he warned against a "wholesale judgement" of soldiers deployed in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Sudan, Djibouti, Congo and Lebanon.

Bild newspaper, which first published the photo-graphs on Wednesday, ran more yesterday, again masking the faces of the soldiers. It did not say where it obtained the photos, which it dated to early 2003. Chancellor Angela Merkel called them "repugnant" and said the soldiers, "can be excused by nothing". German prosecutors will consider charges of disturbing the peace of the dead.

The pictures have caused dismay in part because Germany is proud of its military training, which reflects lessons drawn from the Nazi era by urging soldiers to take responsibility for their actions.

Nato, which commands the 2,750 German troops in Afghanistan, said the scandal could have a damaging effect but so far there has been no reaction on the streets by Afghans.