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German army sees spike in internal abuse complaints

Internal complaints to the German armed forces about sexual and other abuse rose sharply in the first half of 2017, a report says. The news puts yet more pressure on Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen.

Germany's Defense Ministry on Saturday confirmed a media report that a growing number of army personnel were coming forward with reports of abuse within the Bundeswehr, saying that the spike in complaints resulted from an increased sensitivity to the topic.

"There is a clear connection between the high number of reports and the public discussion about certain cases," a spokesman for the ministry said.

In recent months, the Bundeswehr has been in the headlines a number of times amid allegations of sadistic sexual practices and right-wing extremist tendencies amid some of its members.

Read more: Scandal hits confidence in German army

Noticeable increase

The spokesman was responding to a report in the Düsseldorf-based Rheinische Post newspaper on Saturday that spoke of an increase in the number of complaints made, some of them related to older events.

 The complaints are mainly alleged cases of superiors maltreating subordinates, the number doubling from 28 in 2016 to 56 cases reported by July 9 this year.

In the case of reports of violations of a sexual nature, the previous year's level of 128 cases had almost been reached, with 127 complaints made.

In addition, there have already been 96 reports of incidents with a right-wing extremist or xenophobic background this year. In 2016, there were 63 such complaints.

Problem not going away

In May, Germany's defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, came under fire after a series of scandals in the armed forces involving sexual harassment, bullying and a far-right plot to instigate a racially motivated terror attack.

The latter scandal involved a 28-year-old soldier identified as Franco A, who was arrested at the end of April on suspicion of planning an attack thought to be targeting asylum seekers and left-wing politicians, including the Social Democrat interior minister, Heiko Maas, and the former German President Joachim Gauck.

The soldier registered as a Syrian refugee last January, applied for asylum and was drawing money from the state.

Germany's military intelligence agency, MAD, announced in late April that going back to 2011, it had identified 275 suspected right-wing extremists in the military's ranks, 53 of them from this year alone.

At the beginning of the year, accusations were made about sexual and physical abuse at a German army barracks in Pfullendorf in Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Watch video 02:21

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jbh/tj (epd, dpa)

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