Two Belgian peacekeepers accused of torturing a Somali boy by stretching him over an open fire were acquitted Monday by a military court.
The court found that privates Claude Baert and Kurt Coelus did not engage in torture in 1993 but in a playful game meant to discourage the child from stealing.
The prosecution had sought a monthlong jail term for both soldiers, who were among the U.N. peacekeepers from 21 countries sent to Somalia in “Operation Restore Hope.”
The 1993-1995 mission was to protect and feed a population suffering in the anarchy of civil war. However, there have been numerous reports that some peacekeepers - including Belgians, Italians and Canadians - brutalized the civilians they were sent to help.
Monday’s verdict raised questions about how successful prosecutors will be in obtaining guilty verdicts in similar cases of misconducts involving other Belgian peacekeepers.
The cases of Baert and Coelus came to light after a Belgian newspaper published pictures of the two holding a young Somali boy over an open fire. Baert has since left the armed forces, Coelus has transferred to the Belgian navy.
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