Dutch troops ‘may not use guns in Iraq’
26 February 2004
AMSTERDAM — The simmering controversy over the death of an Iraqi at the hands of a Dutch soldier grew on Wednesday as MPs demanded answers about a prosecution letter declaring that troops may not fire even warning shots in Iraq.
The confidential letter dated 15 January from the chief of the prosecution office (OM), Joan de Wijkerslooth, said a warning shot “is in general considered to be the use of violence, which according to instructions was not permitted”, news agency ANP reported.
De Wijkerslooth was referring to the rules of violent military engagement issued to the 1,150 Dutch peacekeeping troops in Iraq. The orders are written on a yellow card that soldiers are required to carry with them at all times.
The letter from the OM chief goes into great detail about the case of sergeant-major Erik O., who was arrested over the death of a suspected Iraqi looter. Accused of murder or manslaughter, he was flown home to the Netherlands to face the allegations and arrived on 1 January.
The shooting took place when Dutch troops were trying to disperse Iraqi looters from a truck near the southern Iraqi city of As Samawah on 27 December. The Arnhem Court ordered O. to be released on 6 January due to a lack of evidence, but he has not been allowed to return to duty in Iraq.
But in breaking the story late on Wednesday, the NOS Journal claimed De Wijkerslooth wrote that O. fired a well-considered shot and that a colleague soldier saw the suspect aim at the crowd before shooting.
Dutch troops have reportedly claimed the looting incident had not been threatening and US soldiers in the area reacted with surprise to the shooting.
Meanwhile, the OM appears to have abandoned its murder charge, but is considering the possibility of manslaughter or culpable homicide charges.
O. claims to have fired two warning shots. There is a “very serious suspicion” that one of those bullets killed the Iraqi and that O., an experienced marksman, did not fire in a safe direction.
The OM’s chief’s letter also reportedly claimed that soldiers were not even allowed to fire warning shots. But the OM hit back on Thursday, saying that the media-created impression that soldiers may not use violence is incorrect.
But an MP with main opposition party Labour PvdA, Bert Koenders, has expressed concern that differences in the interpretation of military orders have apparently opened up.
Other MPs and military unions have demanded answers, and government coalition party Democrat D66 has called for an emergency parliamentary debate with Defence Minister Henk Kamp and Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner, newspaper De Telegraaf reported.
But Defence Minister Henk Kamp remains steadfast in his opinion that military orders of violent engagement were clear and adequate. He has refused to amend them and has always said that Dutch soldiers may use violence where considered necessary.
He refused to comment further on the OM’s opinions, pointing out that it was an internal matter for the prosecution and the government is awaiting the outcome of the judicial process.
O.’s lawyer said he had not seen the OM’s letter and that any claims that the looting incident was not threatening is “seriously one-sided”.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news