British campaigners in legal bid after US file leak: report

2nd August 2010, Comments 0 comments

British rights campaigners have launched a bid to take defence officials to court over the alleged involvement of the country's soldiers in the shooting of Afghan civilians, a report said Monday.

Tens of thousands of classified US military files published last week by whistleblower website WikiLeaks documented unusual civilian shootings in Afghanistan involving two British army units, said the Guardian newspaper.

Phil Shiner, a lawyer working on behalf of peace campaigner Maya Evans, sent a letter to British Defence Secretary Liam Fox at the weekend, urging the Ministry of Defence to conduct a proper investigation, said the British paper.

The campaigners say shooting deaths revealed in the files "require to be investigated as suspected war crimes".

The documents -- which were first disclosed in the Guardian, the New York Times and German news weekly Der Spiegel -- "identify... the killing of at least 26 civilians and the wounding of a further 20 by British forces," Shiner told Fox.

The campaigners' demand opens up the possibility of a judicial review, in which courts scrutinise the exercise of public power, said the paper.

"I am sure we will be able to get this into court," the lawyer told the Guardian.

The Ministry of Defence has not disputed the general accuracy of the accounts revealed in the massive cache of leaked files, but officials have not given any explanation or ordered a public investigation.

The files claim that the number of civilians killed by British forces is small in comparison to those admitted by US forces, with most British units hardly appearing in the US field reports, said the Guardian.

But two detachments of British soldiers appear repeatedly, according to the paper.

There is a series of four shootings of individual innocent civilians in Kabul in around a month during 2007, when the Coldstream Guards were new to the capital.

In 2008, the documents allege that Royal Marine commando units shot drivers and motorcyclists on eight occasions for approaching too close to convoys over a six-month period.

© 2010 AFP

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