Probe finds abuses of civilians by US peacekeepers in Kosovo

JAKARTA, Sep 18, 2000 -- (AFP) A U.S. Army investigation has found U.S. peacekeepers in Kosovo used excessive force, beating civilians and touching women's breasts and buttocks during searches, an official report obtained Sunday by AFP said.

Nine officers and enlisted soldiers of the army's 82nd Airborne Division have been disciplined as a result of the investigation, which was ordered following the January 13 rape and murder of an 11-year-old Kosovar girl by Sergeant Frank Ronghi, the army has said.

"The incidents described in that report are a source of grave concern and reflect behavior that cannot be allowed to recur," US Defense Secretary William Cohen said in a statement Sunday to AFP in Jakarta.

The investigation said the allegations of misconduct and abuse appeared to be isolated to Ronghi's unit: A company, 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the famed 82nd Airborne Division.

"Did Alpha company violate the limits and term of their assignments?" an executive summary of the report said.

"Yes, unit members intimidated, interrogated, abused and beat Albanians in violation of KFOR ROE (rules of engagement) and TFF (Task Force Falcon) standard policies," it said.

The report cited a demonstration on January 10 in which soldiers used excessive force even though the protesters were not overly hostile.

It also said members of the company used excessive force in questioning civilians, adding that "the acts of misconduct and use of excessive force were criminal violations of the UCMJ (Uniformed Code of Military Justice.)"

"Did members of Alpha company touch females inappropriately while conducting searches?" the report said. "Yes, misconduct included touching breasts and buttocks."

The report found no evidence to support allegations that members of the unit had sex with a Kosovar woman identified only as Yugoslavia, or had sex with other women, or drank alcohol in violation of rules.

"Did battalion and company leadership know of the allegations of misconduct and did they take appropriate action?" the report said. "The commanders or their staff knew or should have known of the instances of misconduct and use of excessive force."

The report said the unit was poorly prepared for a policing mission, having been trained before their deployment to Kosovo for high intensity conflict.

It recommended that the battalion commander be disciplined because a task he set for the unit "permeated and focused the command climate, which created an environment that allowed the acts of alleged misconduct."

The summary provided no detail on the task in question, referring to it only as "task No. 7."

The report also recommended disciplinary action and refresher training for the use of excessive force, and additional training and the use of "wands" in response to the inappropriate touching of women.

It recommended "appropriate disciplinary action" against commanders and their staff who failed to take action in the face of allegations of misconduct.

"I fully support the efforts now underway to address questions of leadership, readiness, training and discipline within the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infrantry Regiment while on assignment in Kosovo," Cohen said.

He said those efforts were initiated by General Eric Shinseki, the chief of staff of the army in response to the investigation.

"Such incidents must not, however, be allowed to tarnish the reputation and accomplishments of the more than 10,000 American men and women in uniform who are serving this country with distinction under difficult circumstances in the Balkans," Cohen said.

The investigation was completed February 25, but it has taken the army until now to produce an unclassified version of the report.

Portions of the findings were read in a military court in Germany last month that sentenced Ronghi to life in prison for the rape and murder of Merite Shabiu.

The four officers and five enlisted soldiers who were disciplined for misconduct have not been identified by the army, which says that disclosure is barred by US privacy laws.

One officer received non-judicial punishment under Article 15 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, and the other three received "memoranda of reprimand" from the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, the army said last month.

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