A German court has begun hearing cases of Afghans who are suing the German government for their family members' deaths. In question is whether a German general knowingly ordered the bombing of a civilian area.
The hearing of two compensation cases began in the western city of Bonn on Wednesday, the first of ten class-action lawsuits against the German government in a wrongful death incident that claimed dozens of lives in northeastern Afghanistan. Seventy-nine families are seeking a total of 3.3 million euros ($4.3 million).
In 2009, a German colonel ordered US planes to bomb two fuel tankers near the town of Kunduz which had been stolen by alleged insurgents. Dozens of innocent people were killed and many wounded when the tankers exploded, prompting outrage in Afghanistan and a heated discussion in Germany.
It was unclear whether the officer had been justified in making his decision and how the Bundeswehr - the German armed forces - subsequently informed politicians about the incident. The defense ministry was also suspected of trying to cover up the incident.
The officer in question, Colonel Georg Klein, and then German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung stepped down in the course of the scandal that evolved.
On Wednesday, the first of the two cases focused on the claims of one man seeking 40,000 euros after the death of two of his children. The second case - also in Bonn, where the defense ministry's headquarters are based - was for a widowed mother of six, whose claim amounts to 50,000 euros.
Neither plaintiffs nor witnesses were invited to the hearings. There were no immediate comments available from the parties involved.
Germany asked the court to reject the lawsuit, it has already paid out around $430,000 (333,000 euros) to families affected by the airstrike, which it stressed was not "compensation" but rather "humanitarian aid."
However, judge Heinz Sonnenberger agreed to hear the cases, saying the plaintiffs would have to prove that the German state was liable for the loss of life.
"We will have to review whether international humanitarian law has been violated," said Sonnenberger. The hearing is set to resume on April 17
Germany is the third-largest contributor of troops to NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), behind the United States and Britain with nearly 4,400 troops stationed in the country. The Bundeswehr has gradually reduced its numbers since the initial deployment more than a decade ago, from an all-time high of 5,350.
Germany has agreed with its NATO partners to gradually pull combat forces out by the end of 2014, but plans to maintain a military presence from 2015 assisting Afghan forces.
rg/kms (dpa, AFP)