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Germany

German defense minister rejects military cover-up allegations

The German defense minister has rejected allegations of a cover-up after the death of a cadet aboard the officer training ship Gorch Fock. Other cadets have also complained of harsh treatment from superiors.

The Gorch Fock's mast rigging

Some cadets are reluctant to climb the rigging under sail

German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has said there will be "clear consequences" if complaints about harsh treatment on board a Bundeswehr officers' training ship turn out to be founded.

"If there have been failures, there will be consequences. This has to be cleared up," Guttenberg said in the Friday edition of the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. He rejected the allegation that there had been a cover-up.

"Degrading military exercises will not be tolerated," the minister added.

The Defense Ministry and the parliamentary ombudsman for the armed forces have both launched investigations into the situation aboard the Gorch Fock training ship.

In November, a cadet fell to her death from the rigging of the ship's three masts. Since then, some cadets have been reluctant to climb the rigging themselves while the ship is sailing but have been reportedly pressured by superiors to do so.

Mutiny accusations

In a letter written to the Defense Ministry, the ombudsman, Hellmut Königshaus, reported that some cadets felt they were being put under duress.

According to news magazine Der Spiegel, the captain of the ship tried to dismiss the four reluctant climbers for mutiny against the officers and for instigating unrest among the crew of cadets.

The Gorch Fock

The Gorch Fock is an officers' training ground

Königshaus demanded that those responsible be held to account. He told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper that "there must be an investigation to find out whether the leadership failed."

Königshaus's spokesman, Sebastian Hille, said cadets had suggested "something was wrong on the ship." However, speaking to news channel N24, Königshaus clarified his comments and said "there was no mutiny."

Defense minister under fire

Opposition politicians have criticized Guttenberg's handling of the incident, saying his department is "not under control."

Thomas Oppermann of the opposition Social Democrats told the Leipziger Volkszeitung daily that Guttenberg had conducted a "cover up" and a "conscious deception of the public."

The Gorch Fock investigations come as the defense ministry is also under fire for the systematic opening of Bundeswehr soldiers' letters from Afghanistan.

Meanwhile the Gorch Fock has been ordered to return to the port of Ushuaia in southern Argentina, where an investigative team were due to board the ship as part of the inquiry, said a Naval Command spokesperson.

Author: Matt Zuvela, Catherine Bolsover, Joanna Impey (AFP, AP, dpa)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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