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Germany rocked by defense scandals

by Staff Writers
Berlin (UPI) Jan 24, 2011
Germany's defense minister has launched an investigation into a string of scandals, including reports of a revolt on a naval training vessel and the accidental killing of a German soldier in Afghanistan.

In an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said he had ordered a comprehensive review of the scandals that have tainted the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"I have commissioned the chief of staff to conduct a review of all branches of the military," he said, adding that he believed that he cases were "isolated."

Allegations of mutiny centered on the Germany training vessel Gorch Fock. Naval cadets are said to have refused to climb a 131-foot mast in November after a female cadet fell and later died. Local media reported that the case was linked to bullying and sexual abuse of the female victim.

The vessel has since then been ordered to dock at the Argentine port of Ushuaia where military experts have been sent to launch an investigation.

Ahead of the investigation, Guttenberg removed the captain of a training ship from his post.

In a separate incident, the minister has had to answer to allegations that he covered up the accidental death of a German soldier in Afghanistan as well as claims that he was accountable for the unauthorized opening of soldiers' letters.

The scandal comes ahead of crucial regional elections next month and pundits fear they may hurt Merkel's coalition government.

Among Merkel's most popular ministers, Guttenberg rose to his post after his predecessor was sacked in 2009 following allegations that he covered up details of an airstrike that killed score of people in Afghanistan.

A number of high-ranking opposition lawmakers, including former Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, have lashed out at Guttenberg, accusing him of tarnishing the image of the Bundeswehr altogether while taking too little action, too late.

"We want to see those problems resolved and, in the end, when we've established the role of the defense minister in this, then we will have to talk about the defense minister himself," Steinmeier told German public television.

Others criticized the ministry's management, suggesting it was lacking control.

Guttenberg has said that he had "nothing to reproach [himself] for" regarding the accidental death of a soldier in Afghanistan. He insisted he had correctly informed the public the following day.

On the mail-tampering allegations, parliamentary ombudsman for the military, Hellmut Königshaus, alleged recently that mail from an outpost near Mazar-i-Sharif had been "systematically" opened and items removed.

Germany has about 4,700 soldiers deployed with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. As many as 200,000 items are transported monthly between Germany and military units abroad.

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