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Court rejects Afghan negligence claim against German government in Kunduz deaths

A court in Germany has rejected a case over the wrongful deaths of Afghan civilians in Kunduz. Plaintiffs had sought monetary compensation from the German government for the loss of family members.

The district court in the western German city of Bonn district court on Wednesday rejected a compensation claim by relatives of some of the civilians killed in a 2009 NATO bombing on the grounds that there was "no culpable official misconduct" by the German commanding officer. This meant the plantiffs had no grounds to sue.

"Of course this verdict was not an easy one," presiding Judge Richter Heinz Sonnenberger said. "It’s not always possible to do justice for everybody. In this case, we had to focus on rights and laws, not feelings."

More than 100 Afghans were killed on September 4, 2009, when NATO forces struck two hijacked tanker vehicles near Kunduz, where a German base was located at the time.

The plaintiffs filed the suit against German Bundeswehr Brigadier General Georg Klein because he had ordered the air strike. They accused him of negligence for allegedly acting against advice of US forces to first investigate the site - where he believed Taliban insurgents to be - before ordering the strike.

Klein contended that intelligence reports said Taliban insurgents were still at the site, where two tanker trucks they had hijacked were stuck in a riverbed. Insurgents had in fact abandoned the vehicles. Meanwhile, civilians had descended upon the scene to collect fuel and were subsequently killed in the attack.

"Klein sought an update from his informant on seven occasions. He said each time that there were no civilians at the site," Judge Sonnenberger said in his ruling. "We could not identify a criminally punishable dereliction of duty."

Reassurance for German troops abroad?

Under German law, soldiers can be held accountable in criminal courts for actions abroad, one reason often cited for German reticence engaging in modern military missions. A previous attempt to charge Klein with murder was dismissed by a court in Düsseldorf.

"This is important for the leadership and for the soldiers," said Mark Zimmer, who represented the German government in the case. "In addition to the physical risks of foreign missions, the legal risks have also increased recently. With this decision, soldiers can feel more safely within the bounds of the law."

The plaintiffs were an Afghan father who lost two children and a mother of six who lost her husband during the incident. They had sought compensation totaling roughly 90,000 euros ($123,901).

"This is classic case of legality, not justice," Karim Popal, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told Deutsche Welle. "This is also very sad for the relatives."

According to the German Defense Ministry, 90 families have so far received a fixed compensation sum of $5,000 (roughly 3,630 euros) in money and material goods.

The accidental bombardment of civilians resulted in the resignation of several senior officials in Germany in 2009 - most notably the defense minister at the time of the incident, Franz Josef Jung.

msh/mkg (AFP, dpa)

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