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Canadian Airborne Regiment Disbanded

January 24, 1995 GMT

OTTAWA (AP) _ Overruling his generals, Canada’s defense minister has disbanded a elite peacekeeping force accused of repeated misconduct and scorned as an embarrassment to the nation.

Defense Minister David Collenette’s decision to eliminate the Canadian Airborne Regiment came after two videotapes appeared on Canadian television depicting the regiment’s members as brutal, racist and undisciplined.

Collenette said Canadians, widely viewed as fielding one of the world’s premier peacekeeping forces, had lost faith in the regiment.

``It was a difficult decision, and we took it,″ he said Monday.

Some generals had argued that the 650-man regiment, created in 1968, was vital and could be salvaged despite murder trials, charges of racism and complaints about hazing.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien, however, backed the disbanding.

``I think, for the morale of the rest of the troops and the prestige of Canada, that we had no choice but to act,″ Chretien said in Buenos Aires, where he is on a trade mission.

The Airborne, which consists of male volunteers from other units, will be retired this spring with ``dignity,″ said Gen. John de Chastelain, the nation’s chief of defense staff. Soldiers will be reassigned to their parent regiments.

The Airborne was earmarked for U.N. duty in Croatia later this spring. Another regiment will go instead.

Next month, the 10th and final court-martial stemming from the Airborne’s 1992-93 stint in Somalia will be held.

One private was sentenced to five years in prison for the beating death of a Somali teen-ager. The main suspect suffered brain damage when he attempted to kill himself and was ruled unfit for trial. Two other soldiers were convicted on lesser charges.

Last week, an amateur videotape was broadcast showing Airborne members on duty in Somalia making racist and violent comments. On the tape, off-duty soldiers referred to Somalis as ``niggers″ and talked about hurting and killing them.

A few days later, a 1992 videotape was broadcast showing hazing rituals at the Airborne base in Petawawa. It showed recruits forced to eat feces, urine-soaked bread and human vomit. One black soldier was put in a harness and walked around like a dog.

The Canadian Broadcast Corp., meanwhile, said it had information that the beating and torture of the Somali teen-ager was not an isolated incident.

The network said notes taken by a military police officer investigating the death showed that other soldiers did not respond to the teen-ager’s screams because they had heard similar screams on previous occasions.