Five US soldiers disciplined for abuse in Kosovo

FORT BRAGG, N.C., Mar 22, 2000 -- (Reuters) Five U.S. soldiers in the same battalion as a soldier charged with raping and murdering an 11-year-old ethnic Albanian girl have been disciplined for using excessive force against civilians in Kosovo during a peacekeeping mission in January, a military spokesman said on Tuesday.

The five paratroopers were ordered to take a reduction in rank, forfeiture of pay, perform extra duty and have their activities restricted in the decision handed down earlier this month for incidents that took place in January, said Maj. James Marshall, a spokesman for the Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina.

Civilians in Vitina, Kosovo, complained that the soldiers had assaulted and threatened them during interrogations and crowd-control duties on Jan. 9 and 10. Some women also charged that the soldiers had touched them inappropriately.

The U.S. military is still investigating two battalion officers with Task Force Falcon in Kosovo who were on duty during the incidents in question, Marshall said.

The five enlisted soldiers are part of the 3rd Battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division - the same unit that included Staff Sgt. Frank Ronghi, who was charged with raping and murdering an 11-year-old ethnic Albanian girl in the Vitina area of Kosovo, also in January.

Marshall defended the conduct of the battalion despite the charges resulting from conduct in Kosovo.

"The vast majority of these paratroopers perform their duties admirably, under very dangerous and stressful circumstances," he said. "They're an outstanding unit and they continue to perform their duties admirably."

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