Canadian military shaken by probe of Somali's death Highest ranks accused of incompetence, cover-up scandal

February 11, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

TORONTO -- Three years after Canadian peacekeepers tortured and killed a Somali teen-ager, an investigation into one of the most jarring episodes in recent Canadian history is spurring charges of cover-up, conspiracy, interference and incompetence high in the military command.

The peacekeepers were from the elite Canadian Airborne Regiment assigned to Somalia for six months in December 1992 as part of the U.N. famine relief mission.

On March 16, 1993, Shidane Abukar Arone, 16, was caught sneaking into the regimental compound at Belet Huen and was beaten to death. In separate incidents, the peacekeepers killed three other young Somalis. Canadian television has shown amateur videos taken at the time in which Airborne soldiers make racist remarks.

Nine men faced charges ranging from second-degree murder to negligence in connection with the Arone killing and another incident in which two youths infiltrated the compound and one was killed and the other wounded.

Four were acquitted, but the prosecution has appealed in two of those cases. The most severe penalty went to Pvt. Kyle Brown, who was convicted of manslaughter and received a five-year prison sentence. No charges were brought in the other two slayings, in which peacekeepers were believed to have been endangered.

Under heavy political pressure, the government last year appointed a commission to conduct a public inquiry into all aspects of the Somali mission. Its purpose, in the case.

The inquiry has focused on upper echelons to try to bring out why the Airborne Regiment, with a history of discipline problems, was selected for the Somalia assignment and why the problems were not resolved earlier.

The government disbanded the regiment a year ago after accounts emerged not only of the Arone killing but also of violent, degrading and racist initiation rites.

One of the themes of the inquiry, which is televised to the nation, is what was known about the "troublemakers" of the unit.

A briefing note prepared for Defense Minister David Collenette by the military high command said Brig. Gen. Ernest Beno, commander of the base in Ontario where the Airborne Regiment had been stationed before Somalia, recommended that 25 members of the regiment be left behind.

But the note said Lt. Col. Carol Mathieu, the unit's commander, decided to take 19 of them to Somalia. The 19 included five enlisted men and officers later charged in the Somali incidents.

Another theme is an alleged cover-up. Maj. Vincent Buonamici, an Ottawa-based military police officer investigating Colonel Mathieu, last month accused three generals of interference. In an affidavit, he termed their actions "extraordinary, reckless and the most blatant impropriety that I have encountered."

The generals have not responded, but less than a week after the charge was made, two of them took early retirement.

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