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Under-fire defence minister promises German military probe

by Staff Writers
Berlin (AFP) Jan 23, 2011
German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, under fire for a series of incidents involving the armed forces, called Sunday for a comprehensive probe of possible systemic problems.

"I commissioned the chief of staff with conducting a review of all branches of the military to determine whether there is or has been evidence of practices that contravene the military's code," he told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

A defence ministry spokesman confirmed the probe but said a detailed timetable for the investigation had not been determined.

Zu Guttenberg, a millionaire aristocrat who regularly tops popularity rankings among German politicians, has come in for sharp criticism over deadly accidents involving soldiers.

The defence ministry said Saturday that the navy had sacked the captain of its three-masted naval training vessel the Gorch Fock after the death of a female cadet in November sparked an alleged mutiny.

The ship was ordered to return to port amid reports that cadets had refused orders to climb the rigging after the 25-year-old trainee fell to her death from a yardarm while the ship was sailing off Salvador de Bahia in Brazil.

All 70 cadets on board were flown back to Germany when the defence ministry terminated their training on the troubled vessel and sent officials to open an inquiry.

Annika Seele, the mother of the trainee, told news magazine Der Spiegel in its issue to appear Monday that she suspected a cover-up and had filed charges against the German state on suspicion of manslaughter.

Separately, in Afghanistan in December, a soldier was shot and killed at his camp in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. The military had initially said he had shot himself, perhaps accidentally while cleaning his weapon.

But media reports now say that a German parliamentary delegation interviewed troops at the camp and were told that another cadet had shot him, likely in a game using live firearms.

Guttenberg said in the interview that the review of military practices would include a thorough examination of any reckless use of weapons.

But he denied accusations that his ministry had withheld information on the case and insisted the accidents were likely isolated incidents.

"I strongly refute any attempts to put the military under general suspicion," he told Bild am Sonntag.

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