German soldiers attack youths in racist rampage

Spectre of pogrom returns to embarrass army

The German army's long march to international respectability suffered a reverse in the small town of Detmold on Monday night, as 10 of its soldiers marked out for peace-keeping duty staged a mini-pogrom.

Shouting "Wogs out of Germany", the uniformed conscripts in combat helmets rampaged through the centre in search of foreigners, attacking a 16-year- old Italian boy and two Turkish youths with baseball bats, knives and spades.

All 10 were soldiers of the 3rd Panzer Battalion, stationed at a barracks named after Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. They had completed two months of training in the Bundeswehr (army), and were about to be transferred to Bosnia. "They were to help foreigners," said Major Uwe Hindsches, the battalion's deputy commander. The guilty 10, he assured the public, were now off the Bosnia list.

The perpetrators were aged 20, most had come to the west German base from the east, and there appeared to be no doubt of their racist intentions. After a heavy night's drinking, they set off from their last watering hole at about half-past nine, hunting for "Kanacken" - the derogatory term for Turks.

The Italian was the first to stumble into their way. They beat him up, threatened to slit his throat and left him lying on the pavement. "Where are the wogs?" they asked passers-by. The two Turks, aged 16 and 17 respectively, appeared to fit the bill, and were duly kicked senseless. The lads themselves sustained no injuries.

It was only a few days ago that German troops were hailed for their gallantry and newly found self-confidence. They were the heroes of last Friday's chaotic evacuation of Westerners from Albania, at one point exchanging fire with local thugs.

Now Germans are wondering whether the lessons in assertiveness might have gone a bit too far. A spokesman from the Rommel barracks stressed yesterday that the conscripts had also been lectured on how to deal with foreigners, but the subject of neo-Nazism was not on the "political studies" syllabus.

The top brass, who in a report issued last week found no evidence of organised right-wing extremism in the Bundeswehr, were quick to apologise for the attack. "We express our regret to our foreign citizens for the soldiers' shameful actions," said Volker Ruhe, the Defence Minister, and the army's chief of staff, General Hartmut Bagger, in a joint statement. They vowed to pursue "all possible legal and disciplinary measures" against the Detmold 10, one of whom was still on the run last night.

No links to extremist organisations have so far been uncovered, though police are aware that the neo-Nazis have a centre near Detmold. The army keeps a close watch on extremists within its ranks. According to the latest annual report, 56 soldiers - including 11 NCO's and one lieutenant - were convicted last year of racism. A 22-year-old former soldier is due to go on trial next month for the attempted murder of an Italian, an attack allegedly motivated by xenophobia.

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