Belgian UN troops admit to 'roasting' Somali boy
By Robert Fox and AFP
Tuesday 24 June 1997
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 3rd battalion.
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 three others.
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 collapsed following the overthrow of the Marxist dictator Maj Gen Muhammad Siad Barri, 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 of elite units, particularly airborne units, and their inability to adapt to low-intensity peacekeeping operations.
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."