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Schmid orders probe into skull row

The photos of German soldiers have caused an outcry in Germany

(swissinfo.ch)

Defence Minister Samuel Schmid says he has ordered an enquiry into whether Swiss soldiers serving in Afghanistan were involved in the German skull photos row.

Germany has been rocked by a scandal over macabre images of its troops posing with human skulls in Afghanistan. The Swiss soldiers are attached to the same contingent, but Schmid said he was sure they were not involved.

Schmid told Saturday's edition of the mass market Blick newspaper that he was shocked by the actions of the German soldiers.

He confirmed that three Swiss soldiers were serving in the German army contingent, but do not do any patrol work. The minister stressed that he did not believe that they had any part in the scandal.

"I really don't think so. But to be sure I have ordered the affair to be investigated," Schmid was quoted as saying.

Currently two Swiss liaison officers are working as observers in the northern province of Kunduz and the third Swiss is a doctor in a German army health centre.

They and the German military are part of Nato's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which is aimed at bring stability to Afghanistan. Most of the German soldiers are in the northern provinces of Kunduz and Badakhshan.

Schmid said that the Swiss army trained its recruits such that such actions as carried out by German troops were "impossible, as far as we can judge".

He added that those sent abroad normally were very experienced officers.

On Sunday Swiss army spokesman Felix Endrich told the Swiss news agency that to the best of the army's knowledge no Swiss soldiers were involved in the affair.

After making checks, officials had found that only two officers were on duty in 2003 in Kabul and they were not on patrol, he said.

Germany's reaction

Neighbouring Germany has meanwhile suspended two soldiers in connection with the photos and four other soldiers, who are no longer in the army, are being investigated.

The pictures were originally published on Wednesday in the German mass market daily Bild and are said to date from 2003. Further images of similar, separate incidents have been shown on the RTL television station.

The images have provoked widespread expressions of disgust among politicians in Germany and triggered a review of training for foreign deployments.

German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said on Friday that the two soldiers still serving would no longer be part of the German army.

Prosecutors say the six could face charges of disturbing the peace of the dead which could mean up to six years in prison.

Observers have warned that the photos could start a backlash against both German and other Nato troops serving in Afghanistan. But there has so far been little reaction from the Muslim world.

swissinfo with agencies

Swiss involvement in Afghanistan

In 2002 Nato requested support for the leading countries of the International Security Assistance Force ISAF III (Germany and the Netherlands) in the process of assembling troops. The Swiss foreign and defence ministries endorsed the deployment of experienced officers to Kabul to work in the ISAF.

In 2003 the government gave its approval for the deployment of a maximum of four officers, armed for self-defence, to the ISAF in Afghanistan.

Since February 2004 four Swiss staff officers have been deployed to the ISAF. One Swiss officer is based in Kabul working in field operations. Another Swiss is working as a medical doctor in the medical team in Kabul or Kunduz headed by the Germans.

Two additional Swiss are stationed in Kunduz as liaison officers in the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). Their task may be compared with the one of military observers: they are mobile, keep up contacts with local authorities and monitor the situation to get an overview of the actual situation.

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