German Constitutional Court OKs troops sent to Somalia

June 24, 1993|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

BERLIN -- Germany's Constitutional Court rejected yesterday a bid to halt the deployment of German troops to Somalia, ruling unanimously that German troops now in Somalia can stay until Parliament decides whether to support their presence.

The Kohl government had argued that Germany's reputation as a trustworthy ally was on the line.

The opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) had asked the high court in Karlsruhe for an injunction banning the deployment under the United Nations flag as a violation of the 1949 German Constitution, which is generally seen as severely restricting the sending of German soldiers outside NATO's area.

The court postponed ruling on the constitutional question.

The SPD had hoped that if the deployment was not deemed unconstitutional, the court at least would demand a two-thirds majority in Parliament. But the judges ruled that a simple majority would do, not the two-thirds needed for a constitutional change.

The coalition government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl is virtually certain to be able to muster the majority, with the vote likely next Thursday.

"The government can be satisfied with this ruling," said Frederich Bohl, head of the chancellor's office. "We have won two times in Parliament on this issue. I think we'll win the third."

In April, the Constitutional Court turned down a similar request from the SPD and the Liberal Party for an injunction against use of Germans in AWACS command and surveillance planes directing overflights in Bosnia. The court will probably not rule on the constitutionality of either case until next year.

Germany has repeatedly interpreted its constitution to mean it could not send troops to trouble areas outside Europe, even if those troops were under control of international bodies. With the end of the Cold War, some politicians sought to change this policy. Mr. Kohl chose to make the reinterpretation himself; opponents favoring the change want Parliament to amend the constitution, a process which would keep Parliament's hand in deployment situations.

About 300 German troops are in Somalia now, deployed in noncombat roles with the United Nations' 18,000-member peacekeeping force. Another 1,500 support troops may also be sent by Germany.

According to the government's case, there would have been a disastrous international loss of face if the court had accepted the contention that the use of German troops in dangerous out-of-area combat missions was unconstitutional.

SPD lawyers called "unrealistic" the government's claim that German troops could be deployed in an "island of peace and quiet" during an escalating conflict.

The SPD, which has indicated willingness to compromise on humanitarian operations abroad, contended the line between humanitarian and peacekeeping missions had virtually disappeared in Somalia.

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