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EU Soldiers Accused of Torturing Civilians in Congo

The Swedish military has accused French soldiers of torturing civilians during the EU-led Operation Artemis in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2003, one of the bloc's first joint missions.

French soldier folds an EU flag

France led the brief Artemis mission to DR Congo

Five years ago, the European Union sent some 1,500 soldiers to DR Congo as part of a UN mission to take action against the bandits marauding the north-eastern part of the country. The troops were there to protect the civilians.

Now the Swedish military is saying that French soldiers tortured Congolese civilians during the operation. The German government, which didn't send troops on the mission but provided logistical assistance, couldn't confirm the accusations.

"The Foreign Ministry is not aware of the report," a ministry spokeswoman told DW-WORLD.DE. "We will examine the issue."

Swedish soldiers witnessed torture

French soldiers in DR Congo

Critics have said the EU should have joined forces with the UN

According to an Internet notice posted by the Swedish military, a claim was filed in late May 2007. Results from an ensuing investigation indicate that it is highly probable that the torture allegations are valid.

In the notice, a lawyer representing the Swedish military said that "torture-like methods" had been implemented during the Artemis mission. The other EU countries that participated in the operation have been informed of the scandal, claimed the military.

France led the Artemis operation in 2003 and sent the largest contingent of soldiers. Other European countries, including Sweden, also sent troops.

According to the Swedish television news magazine Uppdrag Granskning, Swedish soldiers observed their French compatriots as they tortured a Congolese man in civilian clothes for hours, allegedly beating and strangling him. According to the report, the episode didn't end until the Swedish soldiers went to the French commander.

Doubt cast on the necessity of mission

German troops arrive in Kinshasa

Germany sent troops to DR Congo in 2006

Operation Artemis is considered today to mark the beginning of Europe's security policy, which makes the accusations all the more explosive. It was the first mission that the EU carried out without relying on resources from NATO.

The German military, the Bundeswehr, sent supplies via Transall cargo aircraft stationed in neighboring Uganda and provided an Airbus for medical purposes. In addition, two German soldiers were sent to work at the Artemis headquarters in France.

The operation lasted just a few months and officially ended on Sept. 1, 2003. Tens of thousands of refugees returned to the city of Bunia and the EU troops succeeded in disarming the militias, the German government reported.

Critics of the operation have said that the EU could have backed up the UN peacekeeping force in DR Congo instead of sending their own troops.

"It was a field test for joint military operations," said German EU parliamentarian Frithjof Schmidt from the Greens. He added that he thought France just wanted to have its own troops on the scene, independent of the UN.

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