Polish soldiers face Afghanistan killings retrial

Seven Polish soldiers in court in Warsaw (14 March 2012) Prosecutors appealed after the Polish soldiers were cleared of war crimes

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Four Polish soldiers acquitted last year of killing eight civilians in Afghanistan are to face a second trial.

The eight civilians, including women and children, died in the village of Nangar Khel when Polish troops opened fire on a wedding party in August 2007.

Military prosecutors appealed to the Polish supreme court after seven soldiers were cleared of war crimes in June last year.

The judge has upheld the acquittal of three of the soldiers.

Three young children were among those killed when Polish soldiers, members of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), attacked the village in Paktika province, south-eastern Afghanistan, with mortar rounds and automatic weapons.

Analysis

The judge said the men had given conflicting reports about the shelling, at times saying they were responding to Taliban fire, at others saying they were following orders or that their ammunition was faulty.

Prosecutors said the attack on the village happened several hours after a Polish convoy had come under fire in the area following the explosion of a roadside bomb, injuring two of its troops.

Up to 24 mortars were apparently fired at the village of Nangar Khel, one of which hit a house that was said to be hosting a wedding party.

The incident shocked many in Poland, but several retired army generals expressed surprise at the supreme court ruling.

Some said they believed all the men are innocent, while one argued that they had not shot unarmed civilians like the rogue US soldier last Sunday but had been given set targets.

The seven men were put on trial but cleared of war crimes last June because of lack of evidence.

The BBC's Warsaw correspondent Adam Easton says it was the first time Polish soldiers had been accused of violating the Hague and Geneva Conventions protecting civilians.

The men accused were from Poland's 18th Airborne-Assault Battalion and prosecutors initially called for sentences of between five and 12 years.

In defence, they said they had come under fire and had been aiming to hit Taliban militants, insisting that the civilian deaths had come from faulty mortar equipment.

Prosecutors said the deaths took place some time after a different patrol had come under attack.

"The court has overturned the ruling and is forwarding the case for a new review," Judge Wieslaw Blus told the supreme court in Warsaw on Wednesday, explaining that the initial trial had not taken into account all the evidence relating to the four men.

The three men whose acquittal was upheld included the group's captain, who had not been at the scene at the time of the shooting, and two privates who were following orders and had not intended to kill civilians, Polish media report.

The four men facing a retrial have been named as Andrzej Oscieki, Lukasz Bywalec, Damian Ligocki and Tomasz Borysiewicz.

Poland has about 2,500 troops serving as part of the 130,000-strong Nato-led force in Afghanistan.

The court's ruling comes at a sensitive time for the Isaf force in Afghanistan, days after a US soldier murdered 16 civilians, including nine children.

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