US troops investigated for alleged mistreatment of Kosovars

PRISTINA, Jan 24, 2000 -- (AFP) U.S. troops are being investigated for allegedly using excessive force in controlling demonstrators in the southeastern Kosovo town of Vitina, the U.S. army said in a statement Monday.

"Several soldiers may have been involved in misconduct including improper use of physical force and threats against Kosovar males and inappropriate contact with Kosovar females," the statement said.

The troops under investigation are based in the same town where a U.S. soldier was accused of sexually abusing and murdering an 11-year-old local girl on January 13.

The army said the soldiers -- who have not been charged -- were accused by Vitina citizens and media of "mistreating" locals during crowd and traffic control duties during demonstrations on January 9 and 10.

The investigation was ordered on January 14 by the commander of the U.S.-led force of international peacekeepers in southeast Kosovo, Brigadier General Ricardo Sanchez.

Spokeswoman Major Debbie Allen said all the soldiers under investigation had been relocated to other areas within the sector and assigned to other duties until the case is closed.

The investigation was initiated by the commander of the third brigade of the 504th infantry, the unit of Staff Sergeant Frank Ronghi, who was moved last week to an army prison in Germany on charges of murdering a local girl.

The army declined to release further details of the charges while the investigation was underway.

The statement added that the troops of Task Force Falcon, covering the southeast sector, "continue to superbly perform their dangerous and stressful mission of bringing peace and security to the people of Kosovo."

Allen said the fact that it was locals who reported the incident showed that the U.S. army was still "doing well with them" despite the murder and the latest allegations.

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