US soldier in Kosovo murder case moved to Germany

BELGRADE, Jan 18, 2000 -- (Reuters) A U.S. soldier held on murder and indecency charges over the killing of a 12-year-old girl in Kosovo has been transferred to a military prison in Germany, U.S. forces said on Monday.

Staff Sergeant Frank Ronghi, aged 35, was charged on Sunday with murder and indecent acts with a child. Officers said then they planned to transfer him to the prison in Germany.

They did not give any reason but it seems likely they thought it prudent to get him out of Kosovo quickly to minimize the chance of any adverse local reaction.

Ronghi served with the Third Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina but currently stationed in Vitina in eastern Kosovo. The name of his hometown has not been made public.

Officers on Monday released the text of a condolence letter sent to the family of the ethnic Albanian girl by Brigadier General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. forces in Kosovo.

"We can only imagine the irreparable loss that you have suffered and fully realize there is little we can say to help in this moment of sorrow," Sanchez wrote in his letter, expressing sympathy on behalf of the U.S. military.

"I did not know your daughter, but as a father, I feel a deep sense of loss and can imagine your pain," the U.S. army general, who has four children, said in the letter hand-delivered to the family on Sunday.

"The Department of the Army will spare no effort in bringing this matter to justice," he assured the family.

A spokesman at Camp Bondsteel, the main base for U.S. forces in Kosovo who serve as part of the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force, said he was not aware exactly when Ronghi was transferred to Mannheim, southern Germany. But the move was now complete.

"He's already been transferred to Mannheim," the spokesman confirmed.

U.S. mission chief expresses deep shock

U.S. soldiers found the body of the girl, Merite Shabiu, about two miles (three kilometers) outside Vitina on Thursday evening, U.S. forces have said. Ronghi was immediately detained.

The girl's exact cause of death has not been released but officers have confirmed she was attacked. The charges against Ronghi also allege an indecent act for "sexual gratification or stimulation" took place.

Whether the girl was also raped is part of the ongoing investigation, a spokeswoman for U.S. forces said on Sunday.

Larry Rossin, the head of the U.S. government office in the Kosovo capital Pristina, expressed deep shock at the murder.

"I want to strongly emphasize that this was an isolated, individual act of violence," Rossin added in a statement.

The girl's murder has prompted shock and some complaints in Vitina, a town of around 15,000 people, about the general behavior of U.S. troops. But there have been no reports so far of any large-scale demonstrations of anti-U.S. sentiment.

Although no longer met with the euphoria which marked their arrival, KFOR troops are generally given a warm reception by Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians who see them as a guarantee against the return of the Serb forces which repressed them.

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