German minister under pressure over new Kunduz report (Roundup)
Dec 9, 2009, 16:40 GMT
Berlin - German Defence Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg came under renewed pressure Wednesday over the government's knowledge of civilian victims of a botched airstrike in Afghanistan.
News magazine Stern reported Wednesday that Guttenberg, who became defence minister in October, had been made aware on November 6 of a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that claimed there had been 74 civilians including children killed in the September 4 airstrike in Kunduz.
The airstrike, ordered by a German officer, targeted two fuel tankers hijacked by militants that had become stuck in a river bed.
Franz Josef Jung, former defence minister and the military's top officer at the time of the airstrike, resigned from the government in November when it emerged that details of civilian victims may have been withheld from the public.
Defence Ministry sources confirmed to the German Press Agency dpa on Wednesday that Guttenberg had seen the ICRC report on November 6 before he made a statement to the public in which he described the airstrike as 'militarily appropriate.'
He said the government regretted every civilian casualty.
However on Wednesday Inge Hoeger, a member of parliament for the anti-war Left Party, called for Guttenberg's resignation.
'Whoever has a document on their desk that says that eight, ten and twelve-year-old children were killed, can't carry on as if everything was alright,' she said.
Guttenberg has since rescinded the judgement that the attack was appropriate, in the light of documents on the attack he says were not available to him at the time.
The precise number of victims of the airstrike, whether civilian or militant, has not been conclusively determined.
A committee of the German parliament is due to begin investigating the incident on December 16.
On Tuesday, a German lawyer acting for 78 Afghans who are attempting to claim compensation from the German government for the attack said he had been invited for talks with the Defence Ministry over a possible financial settlement.
The lawyer, Karim Popal, told ARD radio on Tuesday that according to his own research in the village in Kunduz province near where the attack took place, there had been a total of 179 casualties, including 137 dead. Some 22 people were still missing, and 20 had been injured.
All - apart from 5 - had been civilians, Popal claimed.
The lawyer said that contrary to other reports, there had been no high-ranking Taliban among the dead.
Following an inquiry, NATO said there had been a maximum of 142 people killed, including an indeterminate number of civilians.