German troops kill Somali

BERLIN - German troops deployed in Somalia yesterday shot dead a Somali who broke into a fuel depot they were guarding at their headquarters in Belet Huen, writes Adrian Bridge.

The death, the first at the hands of German soldiers stationed abroad since the Second World War, prompted calls for an immediate return of the country's forces in Somalia and the maintenance of tight constitutional restrictions on German participation in overseas military missions.

The Defence Ministry in Bonn said that the conduct of the soldiers involved in the incident had been 'in line with regulations on the use of arms' by German troops in Somalia. But it added that all humanitarian aid provided by Germany as part of a UN mission in Somalia had been suspended pending an investigation into the incident.

According to the ministry, the death occurred after guards opened fire on two Somalis who had sneaked into the fuel depot at the Belet Huen camp at 2am local time (2400 GMT). Although the shots were intended as a warning, one of the intruders was killed.

Lieutenant-Colonel Wolf Reinhard Vogts of the ministry said there had recently been many attempted break-ins at the camp, which is in central Somalia, but no one had ever managed to reach the fuel depot before. 'It is the first time that anyone has been wounded or shot dead by German soldiers in Somalia,' he added.

Germany's participation in Somalia, the subject of much controversy here, originally involved the deployment last summer of 1,700 logistics troops as part of the UN mission to restore peace and provide humanitarian aid to Somalis. The German troops, in keeping with the constraints imposed upon them under the German constitution, are only lightly armed and are not authorised to take part in combat missions.

Following German unification in 1990, Chancellor Helmut Kohl emerged as one of the main proponents of changing the constitution to enable fuller participation in UN operations and the assumption of greater international obligations.

Many Germans, however, particularly on the left, remain adamantly opposed to any extension of the country's military role. In the wake of yesterday's news, the opposition Alliance 90/Greens urged the government to order an immediate withdrawal from Somalia instead of waiting until the planned pull-out in April.

(Photograph omitted)

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