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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Soldiers Cleared in Assault Case

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Two Belgian paratroopers who were photographed swinging a Somali boy over an open fire while serving as UN peacekeepers in the east African country in 1993 committed no crime, a Belgian military court ruled Monday.


Privates Claude Baert and Kurt Coelus, who did not deny the incident took place, but claimed they had been playing a game, walked free from a court martial with only a verbal reprimand from the judge.


Judge Dirk Moeremans said the two men's behavior had been "dangerous and not very intelligent."


"You can play with a child but a child must never become a toy," he said.


But the judge, who presided over the military hearing along with four senior officers, accepted the defense's argument that charges of assault and battery were unfounded as the boy had not been injured.


The prosecution had failed to provide any proof that the boy's clothes had been burned, he added.


Moeremans, a civilian judge who presided over the court martial with four senior officers, also rejected a request for the charges against Baert and Coelus to be upgraded to war crimes, for which they could have faced up to 15 years in prison.


Announcing the court's ruling, Moeremans said racism had not been a factor in the incident and that relations between the Belgian paratroopers and Somali children during the United Nations' Operation Restore Hope were generally good.